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Mace & Crown | March 19, 2018

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How Technology Can Help the Disabled

Alex Beschler | Contributing Writer

Technology has progressed to the point where we can use a smartphone to navigate from a point to a destination, and highlight the fastest route and instruct the phone to send the estimated time of arrival via text all while listening to music.

Since technology is so capable, one would think that being born with some handicap is no longer a big issue because of all the assistive technology available. While this is mostly true, the technology industry still lacks the complete revolution needed to assist handicapped people to live a truly independent and integrated life.

Since its inception, technology has been focused on solving problems, but those with handicaps have found it difficult to use these tools since technology isn’t always user friendly. There are various apps, gadgets and services available that alleviate certain barriers that make a handicap challenging. Before the technology revolution, those who were visually impaired found it incredibly difficult to live an independent life.

As technology evolved, there have been services available to translate text to words and vice versa, helping the visually impaired write emails, documents and navigate some web pages. In fact, some software is commercially available. Dragon Dictation will go beyond the basics and become a personalized assistant by not only reading text to the user but allowing them to interact with the computer.

There are also gadgets available for those with sight issues. Aira is a gadget/service hybrid that provides glasses to the user and then, at the click of a button, can provide an “agent,” or a trained specialist, to assist the user by alerting them their immediate surroundings and helping them navigate the vicinity.

Hearing impairments can make it difficult to communicate over long distances. Phones aid in communication between individuals or groups of people, but if one has some sort of hearing disability, they cannot use them.

Video chat is steadily becoming a popular platform to engage in long conversations as well. Not only is video chatting an effective way of communicating body language and human emotions, it enables those who are deaf or hearing impaired to be able to communicate over long distances.

Video chatting still has one major caveat: the people chatting must be able to understand each other. If one person, for instance, doesn’t speak American Sign Language, then it defeats the purpose of face-to-face video chatting. Thankfully, there are some technological tools and gadgets available that can aid in face-to-face communication.

In 2016, two sophomores at University of Washington developed gloves that wirelessly translate sign language movements to text and speech, but they aren’t available for commercial use. However, there are some tools available for purchase that accomplish the same thing. MotionSavvy developed a tool for tablets and computers called UNI that use the camera to translate sign language to words and speech.

On the horizon of the tech world is self-driving cars. These “smart” cars range in abilities, with the smartest ones able to get from one point to another with no human interference. One of the first practical uses of self-driving cars is for those that would normally not be able to drive.

The reason this is so critical for the industry is because all forms of technology should be oriented to be accessible for all. Self-driving cars are essentially being developed exactly how new tech needs to be – with universal accessibility in mind.

All technological advancements that have helped the impaired live an independent life come with a major drawback: these gadgets are made and tested for wealthier handicapped individuals. Everything, from personalized speech-to-text software, to glasses that aid in alerting someone of their surroundings, come at a major cost. The biggest hindrance in the tech industry is not the lack of services available to help those impaired, but the cost associated with the gadgets and services.