Assistive technologies for people with disabilities

A look at cutting edge technologies that could radically improve the daily lives of people living with disabilities.

Technology has long been making advances to help improve the lives of those living with disabilities - from the electric wheelchair to cochlear implants.

But the age of wireless broadband Internet is poised to break new barriers in assistive technology that helps people in ways most take for granted.

Smart homes are on the horizon for everyone, with the Internet of Things enabling your smart fridge to know what groceries you’ve run out of and ordering more without you lifting a finger.

But what means convenience for some, can be life changing for others.

For someone who is motion disabled, imagine how useful they would find a tablet app, connected through their home’s Wi-Fi that could unlock the front door when a visitor arrives.

Or another that could open your blinds in the morning. Basic actions that most people are lucky enough to do without much thought are enough to provide a sense of independence to individuals who may have never experienced it.

Already available in Australia is Phillips Hue, a fully integrated home lighting system, with so much more than an off/on switch. It has a full colour spectrum (including varying degrees of white light), and timer systems so you can use your light as an alarm or reminder.

Phillips Hue: Courtesy Phillips Press Kit.

On the horizon for Australia is Nest, a hugely popular smart thermostat that was bought out by Google last year.

It learns your desired temperature patterns in relation to time of day, or when you’re out of the house.

With this information, and the use of motion sensors, it can regulate your home’s ideal temperatures year round, without you ever having to operate it yourself. This would be a desirable device for anyone, but for a disabled person, it’s a leveller. 

As Apple’s Homekit starts to take off, we’re seeing more technology developed to accompany it.

Currently available is the August Smart Lock enabling someone to control the lock on their door from anywhere, using their smart phone or tablet. 

Nest. Photo courtesy: Nest Press Kit.

You can send people digital keys, that operate through the Bluetooth signal from their mobile phone, and can dictate when this key is valid or not.

This is convenient for anyone who is at work and wants to let the cleaner in.

But imagine how useful this is for someone who is confined to a bed and needs to let a carer into the house. Combined with the soon-to-be available August Doorbell Cam, the resident will be able to see who is at the door, and talk to them, explaining that they may need to open the door themselves, and where in the house the person is.

There is also a lot of exciting technological progress being made both in and outside the home.

Motionsavvy’s UNI is a technology set for release in 2016 in both software and hardware form that tracks hand gestures and translates sign language for those with hearing or speech impairments.

August Smart Lock. Photo: August Press Kit

It uses a ‘sign to speech’ function that uses your tablet to audibly translate the signs. Meaning that a hearing-impaired person can communicate at work with a colleague, or describe their symptoms to a doctor.

Or there is DOT, the world’s first Braille smart watch which is currently in testing. Which, when linked to a smartphone or tablet, translates the time, text messages and notifications into Braille. Even full e-books are translatable.

These Wi-Fi enabled-technologies mean so much more than just home automation or remote control -  more than convenience or simplicity.

For people living with disabilities, these have potentially life changing effects, providing independence and piece of mind for those who need it most.