Since the first Assistive Technology Act (ATC) was first passed in 1988, numerous assistive technologies have been developed to empower everyday people. These assistive devices are created to address a wide range of disabilities, ranging from vision and hearing to vocal, intellectual and physical difficulties. They enable people to live fuller more capable lives, and help them challenge themselves in ways they may not have been able to before. These devices can range from low-tech to high-tech to meet the varying degree of health issues, and are continuously being improved through research and available technologies.
Assistive technologies fall within different categories:
- Access and environmental controls
- Aids to daily living
- Assistive listening
- Augmentative/alternative communication
- Computer-based instruction
- Visual aids
Assistive Technology Marvels
Some of the amazing assistive technologies available today are geared toward helping individuals with disabilities adapt in innovative ways. Here are just a few assistive tech marvels.
- Eye tracking software and devices help individuals with special needs who have either limited or no speech have a voice. It’s geared toward a variety of causes, including stroke, autism, cerebral palsy, ALS or traumatic injury. The software uses “communication tools, like symbols, pictures, phrases, and much more, that help to support everyday conversations” and the multi-access devices give individuals the “freedom to use direct selection methods and are purpose-built with the user’s needs in mind.” Individuals like Steve Gleason, a former New Orleans Saints diagnosed with ALS, have been able to communicate better with the use of this technology.
- Brain training using an exoskeleton has helped paraplegics “learn to control an Ironman-like exoskeleton with their thoughts; they’ve even appeared to regain some feeling and function in their legs as a result of the training regimen, according to a new study” conducted in Brazil. The findings suggest that “by using their thoughts to control an external device, participants were also jump-starting some long-dormant nerve networks and connections in the brain and spinal cord.” Does this make enough of a difference? Just watch Juliano Pinto, who was able to actually kick off a soccer ball at the World Cup in Brazil in 2014.
- Hands free wheelchair for all terrains are no longer a thing of the future. For the first time, there is a hands-free wheelchair that will allow individuals who rely on a wheelchair to do everyday tasks, like taking out the garbage or walking their pets. This will make many activities, including sports, a possibility for individuals who didn’t have the option previously.
- Smart phones and Bluetooth beacons make taking the bus easier for the blind. Taking the bus can be confusing and frustrating for anyone, but more so for individuals with disabilities, especially the blind. This technology notifies a person when their bus is approaching. As a bus nears the bus stop, the beacon will “wake up” the phone app and transmit the bus information to the individual’s phone, which will be immediately vocalized by the phone app so the blind person could hear it.
- Adaptive self-lacing shoes is a new high-tech invention introduced by Nike to help athletes gain the best possible fit and performance from their shoes. “The shoe translates deep research in digital, electrical and mechanical engineering into a product designed for movement. It challenges traditional understanding of fit, proposing an ultimate solution to individual idiosyncrasies in lacing and tension preference… when you step in, your heel will hit a sensor and the system will automatically tighten” explains one of Nike’s innovators.
- Bionic prosthesis may be here sooner than you think. M.A.S.S. (Muscle Activity Sensor Strip) Impact is a Simon Fraser University (SFU) team that’s collaborating with Paralympic skier Danny Letain to perfect a bionic arm. The system takes incoming data to make predictions in real time and generates computer models to improve future performance. The device will be put to work at the Cybathlon event in Zurich in October 2016.
As more of these high-tech assistive technology continues to advance, the quality of life for every day individuals and athletes will continue to improve, reducing the limitations of their disabilities.