A Graphic Designer Rewrites Her Future with Parkinson’s Disease

Today at Build, Microsoft’s annual developer conference, chief executive officer Satya Nadella shared his vision for the future of technology. As part of the discussion, he emphasized the role that technology can play to empower people to achieve more and the importance of inclusive design to make sure technology leaves no one behind.

At the conference, Satya highlighted a remarkable and inspiring example of how technology is helping Emma Lawton, a graphic designer diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, regain her ability to write and draw.

The Emma Watch is a Microsoft Research project originally developed by Haiyan Zhang and Nicolas Villar in the UK as part of a BBC Documentary, The Big Life Fix. The researchers’ worked with Emma, who was unable to write or draw because of tremors in her hand. The team developed technology that vibrates on her wrist in a distinctive pattern to disrupt the feedback loop between brain and hand.

Emma Lawton and Haiyan Zhang continue their collaboration.

With the aid of the device, Emma has been empowered to write and draw, using her amazing skills as a graphic designer.

“To be able to write your name is a basic human right,” Lawton said. “To be able to do it and do it neatly is really special to me now. It’s empowering. It made me feel that I could do anything.”

Drawing by Emma Lawton using the Emma Watch.

Drawing by Emma Lawton using the Emma Watch.

We are incredibly proud of our research work on Emma Watch and humbled by the response. This early stage prototype works with Emma’s unique Parkinson’s symptoms and the team in the UK is now working to validate the approach and optimize the technology.

You can read more about Emma and Haiyan’s story on the Microsoft Transform blog and on the Microsoft News Centre UK.