“I wish for a world that views disability, mental or physical, not as a hindrance but as unique attributes that can be seen as powerful assets if given the right opportunities”― Oliver Sacks
As a teacher and an e-learning evangelist, I don’t always pay enough attention to accessibility for students. Of course, my University has a team of professionals to help students who need accommodation to help them learn. But how about the rest of us as we age and those with physical limitations who are not associated with a team who can help them with the skills of daily living? According to the United Nations by 2050, 68% of the global population will live in cities, of which at least 15% will be people with disabilities.
In this issue, I share how technology is helping more and more people with special needs navigate the challenges of living their life. Learn about habitats for those with special needs and robotic tech to empower those with motor impairment.
Smart Habitats for People With Special Needs
Technology is enabling the creation of smart living environments for people with permanent health issues and other special needs.
What does an ideal smart habitat look [like]? It is a place that incorporates technology to make city life more accessible and efficient, without feeling like technology is present. Imagine shopping malls and retail stores, schools, corporate offices, medical buildings and more being all fully accessible through mobile applications, voice commands, and mandatory automatic doors.
Good News: Smart habitats are appearing now in Tokyo, Reykjavík, Singapore, Amsterdam, and Los Angeles where technology-powered smart city solutions make traffic more accessible. Google is adding wheelchair accessibility navigation to its accessible-transit map in major metro areas: London, New York, Tokyo, Mexico City, Boston, and Sydney. Amazing solutions are available now for autism-friendly accommodations in California and dementia-villages in France — designed to provide safe environments while maximizing freedom of movement.
Robot ‘Eyes’ Aid People with Profound Motor Impairments
Advances in AI, miniaturization of electronics and machine vision are giving robots the power and intelligence to liberate those with physical limitations.
“Our results suggest that people with profound motor deficits can improve their quality of life using robotic body surrogates,” says first author Phillip Grice, a recent doctoral graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology. “We have taken the first step toward making it possible for someone to purchase an appropriate type of robot, have it in their home, and derive real benefit from it.”
Good News: Although the abilities of the current robots are limited, improved assistive robotic solutions and lower cost units are coming. Because of very clever user interfaces, individuals with a wide range of physical impairments will be empowered to live life more fully.
Eye-Control for the Television
The story above was about how robotic eyes can help those in need. Here is a story about how technology has enabled those with severe physical limitation to use their own eyes to command their “robots” to control television.
X1 eye control is free and uses a web page remote control that works seamlessly with existing eye gaze hardware and software, Sip-and-Puff switches and other assistive technologies. … [E]ach time the customer gazes at a button, the web-based remote sends the corresponding command to the television. … Customers can [also] use their gaze to type out voice commands like “watch NBC” or “action movies.”
Good News: TV and media access is an important part of life for most people, especially those with limited mobility. This free eye gaze system is available now to give access and independence to persons with disabilities.
In the U.S., more than 48 million people live with physical disabilities, making everyday tasks much more difficult. Fortunately, technology is helping to improve the capability of people with unique attributes to live a fuller, more independent life. Maybe old age won’t be as lonely and limiting as we imagined.