Communicate through blinking

How can you possibly communicate when you have suffered from stroke, and you are afflicted with Lock-in syndrome? Try blinking. This is how Jean-Dominique Bauby did. His memoir “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” was made into a film, and was nominated for 4 Academy Awards including Best Director for Julian Schnabel.

Wikipedia has this to say about its premise:

The film is initially told entirely from the restricted point of view of Bauby, as he wakes from his three-week coma in a hospital in Berck, France. A neurologist explains that he has locked-in syndrome, an extremely rare condition in which the patient is almost completely physically paralyzed, but remains mentally normal. The viewer hears the thoughts of Bauby, which are unattainable to the other characters, and sees through his one functioning eye.

A speech therapist and physical therapist try to help Bauby become as functional as possible. Bauby cannot speak, but he develops a system of communication with his speech therapist by blinking his left eye as she reads a list of letters to spell out his messages, letter by letter.

Gradually, the film’s restricted point of view broadens out, and the viewer begins to see Bauby from ‘outside’, in addition to experiencing incidents from his past, as well as his fantasies, in which he imagines beaches, mountains, an eighteenth century woman, and a large feast. It is revealed that Bauby had been editor of the popular French fashion magazine Elle, and that he had a deal to write a book. He decides that he will still write a book, using his slow and exhausting communication technique. A woman from the magazine is hired to take dictation.

The story of Bauby’s writing of the book is juxtaposed with his recollections and regrets of his life up until his stroke. We see the mother of his three children, his children, his mistress, his friends and his father. He encounters people from his past whose lives bear similarities to his own situation: a friend who was kidnapped in Beirut and held in solitary confinement for years, and his own father, who is confined to his own apartment because he is too frail to use the stairs.

Bauby eventually completes his memoir and hears the critics’ responses to it. However, he dies of pneumonia ten days after the publication.

The Diving Bell and The Butterfly is now widely available on DVD.



  1. I loved “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”, but the movie I’d rather see is “My Stroke of Insight”, which is the amazing bestselling book by Dr Jill Bolte Taylor. It is an incredible story and there’s a happy ending. She was a 37 year old Harvard brain scientist who had a stroke in the left half of her brain. The story is about how she fully recovered, what she learned and experienced, and it teaches a lot about how to live a better life. Her TEDTalk at TED dot com is fantastic too. It’s been spread online millions of times and you’ll see why!

  2. Our dear friend from church in her mid 40’s with 6 children just has a stroke leaving her blinking to communicate. Her hands and legs are immobile. She is only able to blink yes and no . Is there a special way that the family can ask her questions that may help them understand her needs, feelings, fears better?

  3. These are three things I found;

    Abstract; Two video-based human-computer interaction tools are introduced that can activate a binary switch and issue a selection command. BlinkLink, as the first tool is called, automatically detects a users eye blinks and accurately measures their durations. The system is intended to provide an alternate input modality to allow people with severe disabilities to access a computer. Voluntary long blinks trigger mouse clicks, while involuntary short blinks are ignored. The system enables communication using blink patterns: sequences of long and short blinks which are interpreted as semiotic messages. The second tool, EyebrowClicker, automatically detects when a user raises his or her eyebrows and then triggers a mouse click. Both systems can initialize themselves, track the eyes at frame rate, and recover in the event of errors. No special lighting is required. The systems have been tested with interactive games and a spelling program. Results demonstrate overall detection accuracy of 95.6% for BlinkLink and 89.0% for EyebrowClicker.

    Abstract;The purpose of our research is to design a communication system of medical care for ALS patients, who have difficulty in using their hands and mouth. In the proposed system, eye blinking is adopted for communicating with their nurses. The procedure is described as follows. First, The eye-position is detected with comparing two sequential images taken with CCD camera. After the users are identified based on both of their face image and respective blinking pattern, the list of intention items prepared for the identified person is displayed. Each item is successively emphasized on the monitor and the user can select one of the items as their intention by blinking in timing of its emphasis. (author abst.)

    Posted by Colette; One of the most useful communication tools for cats I’ve learned is slowly blinking. Learning to understand how cats communicate can make your relationship with them so much more fulfilling. The blinking technique as a form of communication has worked very well with my cats, especially Buddy, the most timid of the three.
    Cats find direct eye contact threatening, and it makes them self conscious. They don’t tend to stare at anything directly themselves, unless they are ready to attack, as they have great peripheral vision. Rival cats will outstare each other to resolve conflicts.
    Slowly blinking is a reassuring signal between cats and between an owner and his or her cat. By slowly blinking you are telling them you are not a threat and are showing you care.

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