This year, the government of India has directed to celebrate National Science Day with a theme “Science and technology for specially abled persons” in order to encourage innovation, awareness and reach of accessibility solutions worldwide to over one billion differently-abled people in the world. As per records, 50 per cent of India’s 100 million differently-abled persons are under the age of 30 and there is a huge need for assistive technology products. The government plans to bring together government, corporates, educators, NGOs and the differently-abled people so as to understand their needs and provide information on available solutions that can include differently-abled people to participate independently in all walks of life. People with disabilities meet barriers of all types.
For years, disabled people had to rely on somebody else doing things for them. But now with the help of assistive technology, disabled people can do things that would have never been possible before - from switching on a light to having a voice to express themselves. Technology has always lent a helping hand for people with disabilities such as visual impairment, speech impairment, people with motion disabilities or disorders etc. There are a lot of apps and gadgets that can help ease the difficulties people with disability face on a daily basis. Moreover, technologies that could help disabled people contribute more in the workplace - and improve their quality of life.
Electronic Devices for Disabilities
Technology has always lent a helping hand for people with disabilities such as visual impairment, speech impairment, people with motion disabilities or disorders etc. From providing help with reading despite a visual impairment, to keeping the deaf included in a group conversation, to helping patients with shaky hands have a meal independently there are many assistive technologies that are helping the disabled get assistance when and where they need it. There are a lot of apps and gadgets that can help ease the difficulties people with disability face on a daily basis and this article presents some of these. Technology well coupled with electronics advances, electronic based technology has already taken a very special place towards illuminating the lives of specially abled people and much more is expected in the days to come. The aim of the article is to present the development of various electronic based technological aids/gadgets/devices which are really proving to be very helpful in making the lives of specially abled persons more comfortable. We have to further think about how these developments will reach the common people who need these aids and how the lives of these people will be transformed.
Devices for seeing
Dot: is a wearable that is also the world’s first Braille smartwatch. Dot is a practical solution that is more affordable than regular e-Braille devices which may cost thousands, yet still works well for the blind. Dot helps the blind access messages, tweets, even books anywhere and at any time. It can connect via Bluetooth to any smartphone then retrieve and translate the text (from an email or messaging app) into Braille for its owner.
Braille ebook reader: The amazing Braille e-reader, a Kindle style e-reader, makes blind and partially sighted people to read easily. Its alphabets enable them to read by tracing lines of raised bumps with the help of their fingers. It also helps in understanding graphics, figures and even graphs.
Tactile Wand Electronic Stick: this helps visually impaired people to determine the object that comes in their way. Stick detects the object in front of the user and vibrates with the increasing intensity as soon as you get closer to it.
Finger Reader: is a wearable tool to help read text with two functions: to help the visually impaired read printed text on a book or on an electronic device, and also to be used as a language translation tool. A user can wear this device on a finger, then point it on a body of text, one line at a time. The small camera on the Finger Reader will scan the text and give real-time audio feedback of the words it detects. It also notifies the reader via vibrations when it is at the start of a line, end of a line, moving to a new line or when the user is moving too far away from the text baseline.
Be My Eyes: is an application that helps blind people “see” the world. It works by making a network that connects the blind with volunteers from around the world. It is an easy way to ask for help for simple tasks like checking on the expiry date on a milk carton. Volunteers will receive notifications or requests for help, and if they are too busy, the app can find someone else to step in and help. Each request will trigger a video call to volunteers so they can help the user.
Sesame phone: is a touch-free smartphone designed for people with disabilities. This phone is designed to be used with small head movements, tracked by its front-facing camera so to access all the features of a smartphone without even touching this device. Gestures are recognized as using a finger to operate it: swipe, browse, play and more. Voice control is also added to provide a real hands-free experience on the phones.
The Kapten PLUS Personal Navigation Device: Traveling anywhere alone can be a challenge for the visually impaired. There is always the possibility of taking a wrong turn or getting disoriented in the shuffle of busy pedestrians. The Kapten PLUS Personal Navigation Device is a very small GPS locator designed to be carried on one's person. As the user walks down the street, the device speaks direction and location, so the user always knows where they are and where they're heading. In addition, the user can plan and store routes and tag locations for later reference. Designed as an affordable GPS accessory (and not a total replacement) to cane or guide-dog travel, the Kapten offers an incredible amount of security, confidence and a wealth of useful information, allowing blind people to travel independently without fear of getting lost or wandering in the wrong direction.
The Car for the Blind: Speaking of mobility for the blind, engineers are developing a car that can actually be driven by the blind. The aim is to integrate several computer systems, sensors and cameras to observe the environment around the vehicle and provide alternate forms of sensory input, including sound and vibration. This may include seat vibrations of various strengths and locations, pulsing vibration signals in gloves worn by the driver, auditory alerts from a headset and a sort of screen that paints a virtual picture of the surroundings using compressed air.
Assisted Vision Smart Glasses: is a pair of glasses that gives a little sight so that the blind people can walk around unfamiliar places, can recognize obstacles. This gadget gives a great independence, consists of two small cameras, gyroscope, compass, GPS unit, headphone and transparent OLED displays. With this, visually impaired people would be able to distinguish between light and dark. The glasses will make anything a little brighter when comes near so that they can discern people and obstacles.
Devices to help listening
Cochlear Implant: Cochlear implant is not new but this little device is still pretty amazing and only grows more so as the software and hardware continue to improve. The single-channel implant provided mostly static, while early commercial implants with five channels allowed for some indication of cadence and rhythm. Today's cochlear implants, however, have more than twenty sound channels, allowing wearers to hear with much better quality. The implant is still far from perfect, with background noise continually being a problem, but the technology has advanced to such a point now that voices can be heard with enough clarity to be readily understood and identified, making verbal communication possible and productive.
UNI: is a two-way communication tool for the deaf using gesture and speech technology. This tool works by detecting hand and finger gestures with its specialized camera algorithm, then converting it to the text in very short time to provide meaning of a given sign language. Also equipped is voice recognition software that will convert speech into text for two-way communication. UNI also enables to create own sign language with it’s sign builder, so it is easy to add custom language to the dictionaries. It is a subscription-based app with two versions, one that requires a data connection and another that doesn’t.
Transcence: the deaf can communicate via one-on-one conversations using sign language or lip-reading, but difficult about when a group conversation arises. Transcence offers a great solution that can still keep the deaf in group conversations. In a conversation, with the use of each participant’s smartphone’s microphone, the app catches what they are saying then converts it into text in real time. Each speaker has its corresponding text bubble, differentiated by color, just like what we would find in a regular group messaging chat room.
Technology for speaking
The DynaVox EyeMax System: gives individuals with paralysis, cerebral palsy and stroke victims the ability to participate in spoken communication using only their eyes. Using a sophisticated eye tracking system, users can interact with an on-screen keyboard, allowing them to enter words and phrases, which are then translated into spoken text via the device's text-to-speech mechanism. In addition to the on-screen keyboard, the language software on the device offers hundreds of pre-defined phrases and words, which can be selected from lists or chosen via pictures and scenes, making the device instantly accessible to young children and the mentally disabled who may be unable to grasp written language.
Talkitt: is an innovative application to help people with speech and language disorders to communicate with someone else. It will translate unintelligible pronunciation into understandable speech so we can understand what they meant to say, despite the speech impediment. It works in any language. Works by learning the user’s pattern speechs first, creating a personal speech dictionary; then will identify and recognize the unintelligible pronunciation and translate them into speech we can understand.
Technologies for other means
Axs map: many public sites are not equipped with facilities like wheelchair ramps and wheelchair-accessible restrooms. This is a source of inconvenience to those who require a wheelchair to move around. AXS Map is a crowd sourced map that carries information about wheelchair-accessible ramps and restrooms in public places such as restaurants, hotels, shopping malls and more. The map also carries information about how well-designed these facilities are with the help of star ratings.
Assist-Mi: is an assistance application that helps disabled people to get assistance in real-time. It is basically an app that connects service providers and caregivers with the disabled who may need their assistance at a moment’s notice. Services include help in getting to work, to go shopping for essentials or for travel. It has a feature called Mi-Profile which provides a user’s needs so the service provider know what to do when assistance is requested. The app also has two-way communication and GPS for better location info.
Liftware: is a self-stabilizing handle on which one can attach an eating utensil like a fork or spoon. It is very helpful for patients who suffer from Parkinson’s disease or other forms of motion disorders that causes hand tremors. Liftware stabilizes up to 70% of the disruption and helps reduce the spilling of contents from the utensil before food reaches the patient’s mouth. Each liftware comes with the stabilizing handle, a charger and three utensils, a spoon, fork and soup spoon. Each charge can last for several meals and the handle can be wiped down while the spoons and fork can be washed like a normal utensil.
HeadMouse Nano: enables people to control a computer wirelessly using head movements. It requires slightly more motor ability in its users, but is cheaper.
Bionics: advances in 3D printing and bio-electronics are also helping replace missing limbs with prosthetics and give disabled people extra functionality. Bionics makes prosthetic limbs, including hands that can be controlled via mobile app.
The DEKA Robotic Arm: is a highly sophisticated, highly functional prosthetic arm for injured with such precision and control that it can peel a grape. The arm supports a number of customizable controls and modular components, making it easy to tailor to the wearer's individual needs, whether he requires only a hand or an entire arm and shoulder socket. Another promising feature of the arm is its sensory feedback system.
A RoboDesk For Electronic Devices: it's a special sensor device for people in wheelchairs who face the problem of "pressure sores”. Pressure sores "happen when someone is sitting in the same position for too long. It decreases blood circulation to that area and eventually leads to a breakdown of the skin in that area. The sensor device developed fits easily on a wheelchair seat and it's connected to a smartphone app via Bluetooth. If the app notices that the pressure hasn't changed in a certain period of time it will notify the user as a reminder to move. It's raising that awareness for the user because we're often paying attention to other things throughout our day and don't remember to move. Further, they hope to bring the product to market and develop a version for hospitals where patients face health problems related to bedsores.
HeadMouse Extreme: replaces the standard keyboard for the people who can’t make use of or have limited use of their hands. It translates the head movements into proportional mouse pointer movements and performs the respective operation.
Skinniest Disability Scooter: works the same way like other scooter does in public road but it gives an easy way for disabled people who can’t travel or walk by their own. It is four-wheeler scooter and full lightning system with lockable but removable doors.
Gesture Search: This app is designed for people who have paralysis or have lost partial limbs. You are required to draw the initial letter or number of anything that you want to operate on the device's screen. It helps the specially-abled to quickly navigate through contacts, applications, settings, bookmarks, and much more with utmost ease. This application is available on android devices.
People with disabilities meet barriers of all types. However, technology is helping to lower many of these barriers. By using computing technology for tasks such as reading and writing documents, communicating with others, and searching for information on the Internet, students and employees with disabilities are capable of handling a wider range of activities independently. Adaptive technology is a fairly new term, but the basic idea is not. Some adaptive devices are simple, like the cane, which has a history as old as mankind itself. Others seem to come more from the realm of science fiction. However, mundane or complicated, all are a testament to human determination, creativity and ambition. As much as disabled people often benefit from technology developed for regular consumers, it also works the other way around. It is discovered that when we focus on users with disabilities our products get better for everybody. While it's great news for disabled people that tech companies are increasing their interest in making products for them in order to make life better for people with disabilities, there's still a long way to go.