Tongue Piercings Allow Paralyzed People to Control Wheelchairs

December 31, 2013

Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article. 

1. paralyzed [PAR-uh-lahyzd] (adj.) –  incapable of movement, whether partly or completely
ExampleParalyzed patients need wheelchairs to be able to move around.

2. piercing [PEER-sing] (n.) – a hole made through a part of the body, usually in order to attach a piece of jewelry through it
Example: My sister inserted an earring to her new ear piercing.

3. joystick [JOI-stik] (n.) – a device used to control the movement of an object
Example: Gamers use joysticks to control the characters in video games.

4. obtrusive [uhb-TROO-siv] (adj.) – noticeable in a bothersome and unpleasant way
Example: The asthma device from the doctor is very bulky and obtrusive.

5. intuitive [in-TOO-i-tiv] (adj.) – easy to learn and understand
Example:  I was immediately able to drive the new car because the driving system is extremely intuitive.


Read the text below.
Researchers in Atlanta and Chicago are developing an experimental device that will allow paralyzed people to drive wheelchairs by simply moving their tongue.

The researchers designed a new wheelchair navigation system that uses tongue piercings as joystick devices. The researchers believe that the new system will be greatly beneficial to people with severe disabilities.

According to the researchers, they came up with this idea because tongue piercings are much less obtrusive than the commonly-used sip-and-puff system. The sip-and-puff system allows users to control their wheelchairs by breathing into a straw that is worn in front of the face.

In the new system, a person’s tongue is pierced with a magnetic stud that resembles jewelry but actually works as a motion sensor. This sensor communicates with a headset that detects the tongue’s movement. Information is then transmitted to a smartphone app that is used to control the wheelchair.

Furthermore, researchers believe that moving the tongue to control a wheelchair is much more intuitive. In an experiment, 11 people who tried the tongue piercing were able to quickly navigate through a complicated obstacle course. Compared to the sip-and-puff system, the tongue piercings allowed the participants to drive much faster but just as accurately. One participant even said that the tongue piercing gave him better control, allowing him to move diagonally, for instance.

In the future, the researchers plan to expand the functionality of the system to enable patients to do more, such as turning on the TV or the lights with a flick of their tongues.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.  

Discussion A

·         Do you think that driving a wheelchair using one’s tongue is safe? Why or why not?
·         In your opinion, would many disabled persons be willing to get tongue piercings in order to use this new technology? Why or why not?

Discussion B

·         How else do you think the mobility of persons with disabilities can be improved? Discuss with your tutor.
·         In your opinion, how should people treat persons with disabilities?


December 31, 2013