Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Technology and Disability / Dev

Technology now plays a very important role in everybody’s lives, whether that’s watching TV, using mobile phones or the internet, or even traffic light signals. In fact we are inundated with technology. If you walk down the road you will see so many examples. But technology can play an important role in supporting our physical bodies as well. Big strides have been made in helping people with physical problems, regardless of which part of the body, through technology. These technologies are making life easier for people with various disabilities, including severely disabled people. A famous example is Steven Hawking, who use modern technology both to communicate and move around. In fact, Robin Christopherson from AbilityNet, a British organisation that promotes accessibility in technology, says: ‘One of the beauties of mainstream devices is that they have hundreds of peripherals that you can just add on’.  

These types of technology can vary widely, such as the ibot 360, a wheel chair that can climb stairs. This is achieved by having three sets of wheels on either side of the chair, rather than just one on each side. When the first pair of wheels are placed on the stair and locked, the wheel rotates forward for the second chair to reach the next step whilst lifting the chair. When not climbing up the stairs it is used as a normal wheelchair.  

The DinaVox EyeMax system was created to assist people with severe paralysis or strokes to communicate with their eyes, by an eye recognition system. Basically, the eye points to a letter on an onscreen keyboard allowing them to enter words and phrases; these are then translated into spoken text via the device’s text-to-speech mechanism. It also has predefined words that make it easier for them to speak. You might have seen this being used by Steven Hawking. 

Another interesting invention is the Kapten PLUS Personal Navigation Device for blind people. This helps guide visually impaired people to get to their destination using voice activated and GPS systems. It also tells you where you are, similar to a Sat Nav in your car. But this is currently only available in the US and the only flaw with this device is that it is not found in any other language.  

An engineer, Dr David Hong, has created a car that can be driven by a blind or visually impaired person. It uses sensors on the person’s gloves and on the seat allowing the person to independently drive a car. It also has sensors to tell you when there is an obstacle in your way. At first view, it seems that it would be impossible, but when seeing it actually work it shows what can be done with the help of technology. 

A small but highly useful technological invention is the Cochlear Implant, a device that allows severely deaf people to hear sound. First it picks up sounds via a microphone; this then carries the signal to a small computer worn behind the ear, where it is transferred to a digital signal and transmitted to the implant itself. Once received by the implant, the device directly stimulates the auditory nerve, providing an entirely new means of auditory sensory input. 

However, saying this, there are several problems with these new technologies. For example, the accessibility of these products. Take, for example, the ibot 360 wheel chair. Would it be able to handle steep narrow stairs, stair wells or even bumpy terrain? More importantly, would people who are on low wages or people from poor countries be able to get this or any of the other technologies described above? Also some of these inventions are still prototypes, such as the cart for the blind. Most of these technologies still need to be tested at very, very basic level or, as engineers say, to try a ‘viability test’. But with the advancing technology more technologies will be able to assist people with disability – as long as they can get access to the technology.

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