According to a World Health Organization report, more than 1 billion people across the globe will experience a disability at some point throughout their life. Generally leading to poorer health, lower education achievements and fewer economic opportunities, disabilities can greatly restrict an individual’s ability to live a functional life. However, new technology is paving the way toward greater accessibility and making possible a heightened sense of normalcy for these members of society.
“We discovered that when we focus on users with disabilities our products get better for everybody” explained Mike Shebenack, the senior director of accessibility at Yahoo.
Eye Tracking Technology
One pivotal way technology is providing assistance to the disabled community is through eye tracking technology, an innovation that allows users to move a cursor around a computer or mobile device by moving their eyes or head. This has enabled those who are paralyzed to operate a PC without the use of their hands, and by looking at control keys or cells displayed on a screen, a user can generate speech either by typing a message or selecting pre-programmed phrases.
“It’s about changing lives and enabling people who would have been locked into their own bodies and couldn’t have the most basic communication to live a much more functional life,” explained Fredrik Ruben, president of Tobii Dynavox, a provider of speech generation devices and special education products, in a press release.
Another tool being used to aid those with disabilities is a wearable device that is able to provide support when reading text. Leading this innovation, Finger Reader, is a tool both for visually impaired people that require help with accessing printed content, as well as an aid for language translation.
To operate this device, users wear the tool on their index finger and point to the body of text they desire to have read, one line at a time. Then, a small camera on the Finger Reader scans the text and provides real-time audio feedback of the words it is able to detect. Additionally, the device notifies the readers when he or she is at the start or end of a line via a series of vibrations.
A major issue facing many people with disabilities involves being able to eat on one’s own. Now, self-stabilizing handles that can be attached to eating utensils can help to solve this issue. Helpful for patient’s who suffer from motions disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, this technology assists in reducing the difficulties that arise when trying to consume food with hand tremors.
Liftware, a stabilizing handle and a selection of attachments that include a soup spoon, everyday spoon, and fork, has made possible the stabilization of up to 70% of all disruptions and has helped reduce the spilling of contents from utensils before the food reaches a user’s mouth. Also, because each charged utensil can last for several meals, this can make life for users seem much more normal and reduce the fear of eating in public or with groups of people.
Although it is still rather rare for companies, especially start-ups, to have their own accessibility team, as more benefits of increased accessibility are publicized this may change. An aging millennial population will also increase the demand for accessibility as they lose the ability to operate the technology of their generation.