Assistive technologies have evolved rapidly in recent years, providing people with physical disabilities with various assistive devices to match their requirements. As older technologies phase out, we review the types of assistive technologies available today.
Types of assistive technologies available today
To fully appreciate the assistive technology market and the rapid growth of assistive technologies, it is important to understand how far the technologies have come. Here are some of the typical assistive devices currently available for people with physical and communication disabilities:
- Mobility aids - include wheelchairs, walkers, scooters, crutches, canes, and prosthetic and orthotic devices.
- Hearing aids - include devices to enable hearing or help an individual hear more clearly.
- Software aids − persons with sensory impairment or mobility issues can use computer software-aided mobile devices, screen readers, voice recognition tools, and screen enlargement apps.
- Cognitive aids − examples include electrical or software-backed assistive devices that help persons with attention, comprehension, and reading impairments.
- Educational aids − adapted pencil grips, book holders, auto page-turners, and other assistive devices for learners with physical disabilities.
- Sports aids − high-performance, lightweight mobility devices to enable people with physical disabilities to participate in sports and other physical activities.
- Adaptive aids − assistive devices, such as adaptive utensils and switches, enable persons with limited motor skills to drink, eat, play, and perform other activities.
Innovations in assistive devices for physical disabilities
An adaptive switch is an assistive device that enables a person with a physical disability to activate switch-based devices like cell phones on their own. Some of the latest digital adaptive switches allow people with mobility impairments of the upper body to access various types of smart devices, including home automation systems. These switches allow the user to pair them with multiple Bluetooth-enabled devices and switch between them easily by activating the switch.
Environmental control devices
These electronic environmental control devices use an alternative input solution to control and manage multiple home appliances, such as TVs, lights, and electronic doors. Adjusting the lighting, increasing the heat on the thermostat, or turning the television on or off becomes possible in smart homes with these assistive environmental control devices that are often voice-activated.
An eye tracker is an advanced control and communication system designed for people with speech disabilities to interact with a computer using their eyes. By looking at the screen data or a control icon, the user can produce speech by selecting from a choice of phrases or by typing out a message. A video camera tracks the eye movement as an input for a device command, quite like the cursor of a mouse.
Voice recognition software
Mainstream digital devices like smartphones and voice assistants include voice recognition tools. Both Apple and Android devices enable users to type a message without manual typing. Smart speakers, such as Amazon Echo, can answer questions, set reminders, and control smart home devices using a voice assistant.
Speech generation devices
These portable assistive devices have multiple switches or panels that activate pre-recorded digital speech output. These are available as lightweight independent devices and in software, format to be installed on a phone or tablet. This enables a person with a speech disability to generate speech and communicate with others.
Assistive technology has come a long way in recent years. From the invention of the wheelchair to Braille and the television remote, this exciting field of research and technology continues to adapt and evolve to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities. It is exciting to see the types of barriers it will remove in the future.