Did you know that around 54 million Americans have a disability? Various disabilities can impact your life in significant ways.
They can make it difficult to work, socialize, and complete other activities of daily living. The good news is that evolving technology is creating more options than ever for those with disabilities.
Assistive technology can make a world of difference in the life of someone with a disability. Keep reading as we take a look at assistive technologies that are evolving and making a big difference.
What Is Assistive Technology?
Assistive technology covers a broad range of products. However, all of it has one thing in common. It helps someone with a disability complete tasks of daily living.
It can get put into two categories, low-tech and high-tech. Low-tech assistive technology can be as simple as a weight added to a fork handle so someone with a shaky hand can feed themselves. However, other low-tech assistive technology examples include service dogs and reachers.
High-tech solutions can include phones, tablets, screen readers, and more. They can perform functions like closed captioning, magnifying images, reading text, voice-to-text, and more.
Early Assistive Technology
To understand where assistive technology is going, you need to understand where it started. You can trace early assistive technology all the way back to the first wheelchair hundreds of years ago.
To some degree, assistive technology has always existed. However, many agree that modern assistive tech began in the early 1800s, around 1829. It was at this time that the creation of braille began.
It was developed by Louis Braille, who had been blinded in an accident as a child. From here, innovation just kept coming.
History saw the invention of closed-captioned telephones, hearing aids, phonographs that read books, reading machines, and more.
Present Assistive Technology
Today the amount of assistive technology has grown by leaps and bounds. Current technology is opening doors for more and more people. This allows individuals with disabilities to live more independent lives.
The technology we discuss for present technology is only the tip of the iceberg. There are a variety of functions available today, but we’ll touch on some common ones and how they have evolved.
Augmentative and Alternative Communication Devices
Augmentative and alternative communication devices, or AAC, help people who are nonverbal communication. Early forms of this included picture cards and paper with words and images.
As the technology evolved, we began to see boards where a button could get pressed, and it would speak. Now that same function is available on computers, mobile devices, and tablets.
There is even technology now that allows people to communicate solely with their eye movements. This is great for individuals with advanced ALS or quadriplegics.
Closed captioning is a well-known assistive technology for individuals with hearing impairments. A great example of this is phone captioning.
In the early days, before mobile phones, video calls, and text messages, closed captioning for phones opened up the ability to communicate via telephone for people with hearing impairments. Movies and TV shows having closed captioning opened up entertainment options for people.
Now, everything on your phone can get closed captioning. There are even apps for “visual voicemail.” However, many people know that the closed captioning for this type of tech isn’t always accurate.
However, the tech has evolved and is becoming more accurate all the time. There are also tips people can use, like the ones shared here, https://www.innocaption.com/recentnews/10-tips-for-phone-captioning, to help get the most accurate closed captioning possible.
Assistive Tech for Mobility
Canes have been around for years; you would think that there was no way to see this type of device “upgraded” at this point. However, technology has looked at the problems faced by senior citizens, and canes have evolved to provide more independence.
There are now “smart canes” on the market. These canes have built-in smartphones, GPS trackers, LED lights, activity tracking, and more.
That means if someone you love goes out for a walk, you don’t need to worry that they’ll fall and be unable to call for help. You also don’t need to worry that your grandfather with dementia will wander off and get lost.
The GPS tracker in the cane allows you to find them and still allows a sense of independence.
Assistive Tech for Individuals With Vision Impairments
White canes are a great assistive technology for individuals with visual impairments. There is some debate about who “invented” the white cane. However, it has had its own evolution.
In biblical days people used canes when traveling or herding sheep. It wasn’t uncommon to see those who were blind using canes as well to alert them to objects in their path.
Sometime in the 1920s or 1930s, someone decided to paint canes used by people with vision impairments white to make them more visible to motorists. Now, these canes have evolved so that they’re “smart” as well.
The smart cane alerts people with vision impairments how close an object is. It does this through a series of beeps. The beeps can change in frequency depending on how close you are to the object.
There are even canes that can provide accessible navigation, information on public transportation, activity trackers, and help you find nearby businesses.
Voice Controlled Technology
Alexa: what are examples of voice-controlled technology?
One interesting thing you will find about assistive tech is that it has evolved to the point that even individuals without disabilities use it. Voice-activated devices make your life easier every day.
You can ask Google or Alexa a question without even lifting a finger. You can operate your phone or computer solely with your voice.
You can even write or send text messages using your voice. Early technology for this wasn’t always easy to navigate. You had to “train” software to your voice to control your computer.
However, now, it’s more accurate than ever. This is great for individuals with limited mobility in their hands.
The Future of Assistive Technology
Assistive technology has already come a long way in the past couple of hundred years. However, innovation isn’t stopping anytime soon.
Assistive technology will continue to open doors for individuals with disabilities. Let’s take a look at some of the things that the future might hold.
Assistive Tech for Cars
Does the thought of a blind driver scare you? That’s understandable; this type of new assistive technology is controversial, to say the least. However, one inventor believes it could be possible.
Dennis Hong is an engineer working on designing a car for the blind. The car would incorporate similar technology to smart canes.
The car would have the ability to watch and monitor what’s happening around it. It would make sounds and vibrate to cue the driver.
This could be done through gloves or the seat. This would allow a new level of independence for individuals with vision impairments, and when you consider other evolving technology, the idea isn’t too farfetched.
In addition, Google has joined the world of assistive technology, and they’re working to develop a car that caters to the needs of an individual with disabilities. This car would be driverless and use AI and Google street view to navigate the roads.
This would allow individuals with various disabilities to go from place to place independently. When you think about cars that now parallel park for you, it’s possible that this type of innovation and technology isn’t too far from possible.
If you’ve seen the popular TV show Glee, it’s possible you’ve been introduced to this type of technology. This technology is geared toward individuals with mobility impairments.
The design of an exoskeleton suit helps reinforce the hips, knees, and ankles of the person wearing it. This allows someone with limited mobility or weakness to become mobile again.
On Glee, this is seen in the form of a device called a ReWalk. This is an actual brand of exoskeleton that exists for people.
Robots might not be taking over, but they’re certainly becoming more popular. Many people now own “robotic vacuums” that do their sweeping for them.
However, more and more devices are getting designed to provide robotic assistance. These robots can help with household chores and allow individuals with disabilities to live more independently.
Stair Climbing Wheelchairs
Wheelchairs have evolved significantly over the years. Powered wheelchairs made it easier for people with disabilities to get from place to place.
In addition, wheelchairs that can navigate different terrains and allow people to compete in sports have made a world of difference. However, wheelchairs are continuing to evolve.
Stair climbing wheelchairs allow a new level of independence. For some individuals, visiting places without an elevator was historically almost impossible.
However, with this tech, they can navigate stairs without the assistance of other people. This type of wheelchair is already available to some users, and who knows what will evolve from this.
Barriers to Evolving Assistive Technology
With all the knowledge and tech out there, why are things not in place yet? Like anything, there are some barriers that have slowed down the progress of this type of tech.
Without knowledge of the barriers that are present, the tech can’t move forward. It’s important to understand the barriers that are impacting the future of assistive technology. By understanding, we can begin to move forward and create solutions for the challenges faced.
Understanding, Approval, and Adoption
Above we asked you a question about cars for the blind. Does the thought of a blind driver scare you?
Technology is evolving, but the laws and the adoption of that technology have to evolve with it. People need to be educated, and in the case of controversial tech need reassurances about safety.
In addition, if a car for the blind comes out, blind drivers will need licensing. It makes sense that this might look somewhat different from drivers without a visual impairment.
Laws would need to evolve to allow this, and a system would need to get set up for teaching and testing visually impaired drivers. Only then can people fully begin to adopt this type of technology.
Everything costs money, and technology costs a lot of money. A lack of financial resources slows the evolution of tech and research.
Until the funding is in place, the creators can’t continue moving forward with the tech they’re creating. However, considering funding for research and creation isn’t enough.
The people who need the tech also need the ability to afford it. Depending on the financial situation, that’s not always possible. More advanced assistive technology can be quite expensive.
When new assistive technology gets created, people need to learn how to use it. That training process isn’t quick. To some degree, this goes back to the adoption of new technology.
The longer it takes to train people on how to use the tech, the slower the rate of adoption.
A Path Towards a Better Future for All
Technology is evolving every day. You can see how the past has led to the present and how the present is evolving to bring the future. Unfortunately, there are significant barriers that are slowing down the progress of assistive technology.
Moving forward towards a better future for all means there’s a need for education, funding, training, and the adoption of new technologies.
Are you interested in learning more about how technology is changing the world? Keep reading articles across our website for more informative articles.