Best Assistive Technology for Persons with Disabilities

Accessibility & Assistive Technology , Blog Oct 22, 2017 No Comments
Man in VR talking to therapist

When it comes to talking about Assistive Technology (AT), particularly for people with disabilities (PwD) of a varying spectrum, most people, at first, think of robots and artificial intelligence (AI) in a classroom like setting, but it is so much more than that. Over the years, with the improvement and the speed with which the world of AI has transformed, AT has come a long way from the way it used to be, and now it is used as an umbrella term. Today, Assistive Technology not only refers to AI, but the kind of technological helping, diagnosing as well as rehabilitating framework as well.

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In the vein of that, today we take a look at some of the most widely loved, acclaimed and perhaps the best AT that the world of science has to offer currently to individuals with disabilities.

  • Smart watches: Depending on the smart watch, it can be used for a number of purposes. For instance, a lot of people use it in order to document their day to day activities, as well as use it to set important reminders about events, appointments and so on. This is particularly helpful for individuals with cognitive and memory disorders and even individuals with Alzheimer’s. Most of these smart watches also come with amazing apps that can do work based on the user’s voice.
  • Audio note taker: Not only can individuals record all important speeches and notes, but most of the modern note takers allow to go back to all of the notes, highlight them, navigate through them, and even come with spell check. This is especially helpful for individuals with dyslexia since they get a visual of all that they have heard.
  • Speech synthesizer: Speech synthesizers are very useful for individuals who have speech impairment issues, since they allow for a number of functions. For instance, the user types the text on the screen and the synthesizer reads it out loud, and some synthesizers also predetermine speech based on the type of speech and most frequently used words by the user.
  • Smart belt: this is a fairly new invention aimed for individuals who suffer from seizures. Apparently, the sensors in the belt can detect signs of seizure a few minutes before and therefore warn the individual and even send messages to guardians/ friends and family of the affected individual. The first smart belt was introduced back in 2013, and so far there have been a few improvements in order to include a few more features in it.
  • Smart phone: More and more modern smartphones are being geared towards the disabled, which have a number of incredible features. For instance, some Smart phones help to communicate between deaf individuals and their friends who are not able to use sign language in order to communicate, as well as allow for individuals to understand direction.
  • Touch less keyboard: Most of touch free keyboard are head mounted and use an embedded voice recognition software in order to allow the user to perform all the tasks that abled and well bodied individuals can do with a normal keyboard. This includes watching movies, generating tests and even something like playing games. Unfortunately, we are yet to come across a touch less keyboard that operates with the Linux operating system.
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  • Eye trackers: This kind of technology basically allows for all kinds of people with various disabilities to control their computers with their eyes, just like we would use a mouse. Not only can all of the users can use simple move their eyes in order to achieve basic tasks like write and send an email, but it is also helpful for children with autism in order to communicate better and create an environment where they can authorize their own control.
  • Audio books: Audio books are a great way for individuals with learning disabilities to learn and improve their vocabulary. However, since most audio-books are narrated by humans, they allow for autistic individuals to listen, understand and assimilate the change in expression, the fluency as well as the everyday prosody, which in turn can impact their cognitive functions as well as help them become more sociable and allow for them to interact more easily with others. Additionally, audio-books come in various languages, both native and dialectic, which makes them very easy to access for everyone.
  • Stair climbing wheelchair: Basically, this advanced form of a wheelchair has a caterpillar like tendency where the back wheels fold over the standard wheels in order to climb up the flights of stairs in a home. Most of them are built in with individual sensors which automatically detect the beginning and the end of the stairs, so that the user does not have to pre-program when the wheelchair has to start and when it has to stop. Although work is being done to improve them, they come a little on the expensive side.
  • Home robots: Assistive home robots are perhaps the most popular among individuals with muscular impairments as well as elderly individuals. Based to provide all around assistance within the home environment, such work robots not only work on autonomous control, but are essential in everyday tasks like reminding people of important meetings, to take their regular medication, making phone calls in case there is an emergency, but also help control the electronics inside the house. With time, more and more features are being added, for instance, to send an email to a doctor based on a fats diagnosis of the individual by the assistant robot at a time.

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That being said, there is still a very long for AT and scientific progress to go, especially when it comes to individuals with various forms and degrees of disabilities. With more and more forms of therapies opening themselves up to various forms of mechanical and artificial assistance and guidance, it is not hard to imagine a world where majority of the assistance and rehabilitation for differently individuals will be completely on the shoulders of technology.

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Achraf Othman

Dr. Achraf is a senior research specialist in Accessibility and Assistive Technology for People with disabilities and Machine Translation and Machine Learning.