In 2018 it was estimated that over 1 billion people worldwide required 1 or more assistive products and that by 2030, this number will have doubled. The ongoing development of assistive tech – technology designed to deliver assistive services and products – is therefore becoming increasingly necessary. The World Health Organisation says,
‘Assistive technology enables people to live healthy, productive, independent, and dignified lives, and to participate in education, the labour market and civic life.’
Appropriate assistive technology has a significant role to play in making the internet, the workplace, social media, and gaming tools, more accessible and inclusive – so what is on the horizon?
The pandemic forced many older adults to adopt virtual technology for medical appointments and social interaction which may well continue post-Covid. For those with disabilities, particularly visual and hearing impairments, this can be problematic when they have not been exposed to the technology that younger users have experienced throughout their lives.
Assistive computers which are specifically designed to be used by older adults can provide easy text enlargement features, large touch-screens, and user-friendly apps tailored to their requirements.
Though an estimated 170 million plus adults in the United States regularly take part in gaming, as a popular leisure activity this can be challenging to access for people who are unable to use their hands or communicate verbally in the way required to play. Games that use eye-tracking devices enable hands-free gaming by emitting infrared light and measuring the eyes’ reflection. The eye-movement can either supplement the use of hand-sets or replace them, depending on the technology used.
Significant hearing loss affects over 6% of the population worldwide. This has led to the development of a robotic sign-language interpreter which scans and reads text and then communicates accurately in sign language. Similarly, robotic gloves can convert sign language letters into text through a computer or smartphone. When the user puts on the gloves and signs, sensors on the finger pads process the words which are then converted to text on a smartphone or computer screen.
Apps that can identify objects through a mobile phone camera are increasingly popular as they enable visually impaired users to identify the object they are holding and can even describe their surroundings. Similarly, Amazon’s Echo dot can verbally identify an object when asked.
The technology behind smart glasses can help people who find social interaction challenging by encouraging them to maintain eye-contact for an appropriate length of time, and by providing virtual rewards for correctly recognising the emotions linked to facial expressions.
Clearly, the continued development of user-friendly, assistive tech through rapidly advancing technology is vital to promote ongoing and increased inclusion and participation.
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