Technology pervades every aspect of human endeavour and interaction. It has brought maximum comfort and satisfaction in areas where we needed it and where we never thought we did. The dividends of technology are enjoyed by everyone, able-bodied and disabled persons alike. For the disabled, especially persons with limited mobility, assistive technology devices such as wheelchairs, powerchairs, scooters, home lifts and stair lifts help with mobility, independence and convenience. However, technology has moved from just addressing mobility for disabled persons to their day to day living and to helping people with disabilities that do not affect physical movement, such as speech or visual impairment.
The increasing intervention of technology in the lives of disabled persons has changed the traditional meaning of ‘assistive devices’. Conventionally, we understand assistive devices to mean a device that assists disabled people with their particular disabilities, such that their disability is no longer a hindrance or inconvenience to living a normal life. The latest technological innovations for disabled persons today now include software applications that can be operated on smartphones. This does not qualify smartphones as assistive devices.
Recent technology interventions for disabled persons include hardware devices and software applications.
Liftware helps to self-stabilise kitchen utensils like forks and spoons. It’s great for older people and people with Parkinson’s disease or other motion disorders that cause tremors. Liftware is said to fix up to 70% of the hand shaking and stops food from falling out of utensils. It takes frustration away from persons with motion disorders while feeding.
Dot is the first Braille smartwatch in the world. Dot helps people with visual impairment to do a lot of things, like read messages, send tweets, use social media, and send emails. This simple solution could change the lives of millions of people with visual impairment globally.
Checking blood sugar levels usually works by pricking a finger with a needle. Glucowear, a piece of technology that looks like a normal fitness band and gives glucose readings, has changed all of that. When used with a smartphone app, it gives glucose readings in real time at any time of day or night.
Meta looks like a motorcycle helmet and was made by a Chinese company called CloudMinds. It uses sensors and cameras to record its surroundings and sends the data to a cloud server where AI technology can process it. This information can be communicated in speech, which helps people who are blind or have trouble seeing move around, recognise objects, and deal with traffic lights and crossings.
Next-Generation Hearing Aid
Researchers at Columbia University in New York are making a “cognitive hearing aid” that can predict which voice a person is paying attention to by monitoring their brain activity. Then, it amplifies the sound while reducing the noise around it, so a user can hear better.
It is designed to help those with paralysis to stand and walk. It is to be used with crutches or walkers. In the near future, exoskeletons may replace wheelchairs, providing greater mobility and better health benefits.
Scientists in the US, UK, and China are making prototypes of gloves that convert the hand movements of sign language into spoken words. This will allow verbal communication between deaf people and people who can hear properly but are not proficient in sign language.
This phone operates by monitoring head movements through the front camera and voice control. It is designed to be used without a need to touch it. A user can swipe, browse and do other things with their head movements or voice as though they were using their finger.
The New Handicare 4000 Stairlift
The Handicare 4000 stairlift is the newest stairlift on the market and as such,features the most innovative up to date technology available. The twin curved rails can be custom built to maneuver even tight bends easily, offering a smooth ride. There are also many visual and functional options available to fully tailor this stairlift to your needs.
Tap See is an innovative app that makes it easier for people with visual impairment to find their way around. The way it works is that users double-tap the screen of their smartphone, and the app takes a picture of any surrounding item. The app then uses speech to describe the item.
Be My Eyes
On the Be My Eyes app, blind people can connect with volunteers from all over the world through a network. Volunteers will get requests for help, and if they are not available, the app will find someone who is available to help. Volunteers will get a video call from a blind person asking them to help identify things in their surroundings like checking the expiration date on a milk carton.
Voice4U is an app that helps people who have trouble with clear speech as a result of injury to the brain or stroke. It helps them say what they are thinking or feeling in a better way. This app is interactive and easy to use.
This app is built by Finland-based developer Ilkka Pirttimaa, and it is meant primarily for persons who are visually impaired. It helps them move around in streets and communities in their environment. It uses Open Street Map and Foursquare data to ascertain the location of a user, and gives audio description of surrounding buildings and environment. A user only has to shake their phone and the app describes their surroundings out loud, as well as their travel progress. It can recognise a user’s current location and help them find their way back if they get lost. Blindsquare also works with ride hailing services. A user can order an Uber without having to download the Uber app. Blindsquare is used by more than 60,000 people in 186 countries, and is available in 26 languages.
Most public places do not have wheelchair ramps and wheelchair-accessible restrooms. This is inconvenient for persons who move around with a wheelchair. AXS Map shows places like restaurants, hotels, shopping malls, and more that have ramps and bathrooms that are easy for people in wheelchairs to use. With the help of star ratings, the map also shows how well-made each of these facilities is.
This app helps deaf people to get along in group conversations. During a conversation, the app listens to what each person is saying through the smartphone microphone. It then turns what they say into text. Each person speaking has their own text bubble, which is different from what others say by colour, just like a normal group messaging chat room.
Assist-Me is an app that helps disabled people get help. It gets service providers and caregivers in touch with disabled people who may need help at any moment. Some of the services include helping people get to work, go shopping for necessities, or travel. It has a feature called Mi-Profile that tells the service provider what the user needs so they know what to do when help is asked for. The app also has GPS and two-way communication to help with getting around better.
Even though technology has advanced to help disabled people have more independence in their day to day living, however most of the technology solutions are not available publicly yet. More funds and investment is necessary to achieve this.