David Todd is a remarkable man. In 1989 the former RBAI and Instonians player had the world at his feet. He had played for Ireland Schools and was attending Edinburgh Medical School when a freak accident changed his life.
David Todd is one of a number of former players who receives assitance from the IRFU Charitable Trust but he is also living proof that life is what you make it.
David was recently awarded a Google Scholarship for Students with Disabilities and is working on an Masters in Brain Computer Interfaces.
The Charitable Trust has been helping seriously injured rugby players for many years. One man who has benefitted from the Trust’s help is David.
He suffered a brain injury in 1989 that changed his life. After three years in hospital he arrived home in a wheelchair and unable to speak. Vocational training with computers led David to delight in finding an area where his physical disability was no handicap.
From 1996 to 2000 he studied at the University of Ulster to get his first class B Sc(Hons). He then worked briefly as a software engineer. After doing various voluntary jobs, he was invited to join the team of the BRAIN project, researching Brain-Computer-Interfaces (BCI).
BCI is an exciting new technology that records EEG signals from to scalp, which depend on brain waves, and then translates these signals so they can be used to perform various tasks using a computer, allowing users to control things purely by thought alone!
David has now undertaken a research M Phil in his own right. He aims to study how BCI can be used creatively.
In June this year, he was awarded a Google Scholarship for Students with Disabilities.This scholarship aims to help dismantle barriers that keep students with disabilities from entering computing, encourage them to excel in their studies and become active role models and leaders in creating technology.
Only seven of these scholarships were awarded, across the EU, Switzerland, and Israel, making them extremely prestigious.
David takes up the story of his trip to Switzerland to attend the Scholars’ Retreat:
Winning the Google Scholarship for Students with Disabilities was quite an achievement. There were nearly 100 people at the retreat in Zurich.
This was because it also included all the winners and finalists from another scholarship – one that is well established now. By contrast this was the first year of the Disabled Students’ Scholarship.
Unfortunately, our trip started badly when the taxi that was meant to meet us at the airport didn’t turn up! But everything else about our time in Zurich was fabulous!
On arriving at the hotel we were amazed at how luxurious everything was. Perhaps the simplest way to explain is to mention that there was a card listing the various rooms available and the cheapest was nearly £400 per night!
After unpacking we took a stroll round the area and had tea in a restaurant nearby. The following morning we registered with the Google rep downstairs and got what turned out to be excellent advice about where to go for lunch.
We went to a charming restaurant high on a hill overlooking the city/lake. The food was splendid and the view was superb.
I had signed up for the optional product workshop that afternoon so we took a taxi to the Google office to be there by 2pm. After the workshop, the main retreat proper got under way with an intro talk by a senior engineer manager, followed by a very interesting and enlightening talk on Google Wave, Google’s new tele-collaboration tool.
This was given by satellite link from Australia by the Head Engineer in charge of developing this product.
Things then got more relaxed with a BBQ reception. Following this, Irina Makhalova, the Russian winner of an Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship, rounded up a bunch of us to head to the old town to do some sightseeing.
There was a slight hiccup when the first tram wasn’t wheelchair-accessible and about half our group boarded it anyway without realising. But they waited in the old town for us to arrive on the next tram and we all had a great time.
The next day was busy. It was packed with mostly technical talks, with a careers talk and a generals talk on Anita Borg herself, a pioneer for women in computing, sadly now dead due to brain cancer. Then the highlight of the whole trip was a gala dinner by the lakeside.
It was all very enjoyable but tiring – I was glad to get to my bed.
The next morning we all had breakfast together and many fond farewells were said. I should add that our communal friendship didn’t end there – it is still going strong via Facebook/Google Groups/Google Wave, etc.
I had time for a quick shopping trip then it was off to the airport to catch the flight home.
Related Links –
To donate to the IRFU Charitable Trust, visit: http://www.mycharity.ie/charity/irfucharitabletrust