This year’s CES saw technology brands showcasing significant strides in assistive technology, with innovations designed to help meet the needs of the 15% of the global population who live with a disability. With brands such as Apple, Google, Microsoft and Samsung leading the charge for better, more inclusive technology, there are many reasons to be optimistic for those who rely on assistive technology for getting out and about, accessing e-learning for study purposes, or building their career.
The move to include
Inclusive design has always mattered to those who need it, but historically, companies have lacked either the technical ability, financial resources or large scale consumer demand to push it through. However, as innovators break new ground and push the boundaries of what’s possible, so too consumer attitudes have shifted. A recent global study found that today’s shoppers are four to six times more likely to buy from, protect and champion companies with a strong sense of purpose. For the brands that are stepping up to meet the challenge, there has arguably never been such a powerful motivation to create products that serve a positive and inclusive role.
Benefits for all ages
One huge advantage of innovations in assistive and adaptive technology is that in many cases, the same products can benefit both adults and children. Put simply, it’s a double win for brands and consumers. While it may be adults who have the purchasing power, studies have confirmed the positive and meaningful effects of adaptive technology for children and families too. Consider, for example, the difference adaptive equipment can make to the family of a child with cerebral palsy who feels unable to take part in outings with their parents and siblings, or to sit comfortably at the table for family meals. Advancing in inclusive design means improving quality of life for everyone; not just meeting their physical needs, but boosting their emotional health and wellbeing too.
Access all areas
For people living with mobility issues, adaptive and assistive technology can open up a world of opportunities. From Indian brand Lechal’s smart shoes, which use Bluetooth to vibrate and keep visually impaired runners on the track, to Sensible Innovations’ Aware app, which offers descriptive navigation through your phone both indoors and out, technology is enabling people to physically get moving more safely and independently than they could previously. After a year of particularly restricted movement, these innovations could bring some much-needed freedom to those who are keen to get out and explore.
Seeing a way forward
The WHO estimates that 285 million people globally are visually impaired. Assistive technology has come a long way in developing products to help, from refreshable braille keyboards to the OrCam My Eye 2, a small device that attaches to the frame of glasses and can read any printed or digital text. Again, a game-changer for both adults and children alike, this can also help people with learning difficulties to access news articles and books.
Helping people to hear and be heard
With 600,000 people in the US registered as deaf, this is another group of people who will welcome the progress being made in assistive technology. One example of new innovation in this area includes the HeardThat app, which identifies and removes background noise and enables people to hear more clearly what is being said. Smart home systems are also helping to notify those who are deaf or hard of hearing of their doorbells, home telephones, and other alarms. On the other hand, for those who are unable to communicate themselves, Android has recently announced a new app to help people communicate with their eyes – an incredibly important advancement for those people and their loved ones.
As companies become more incentivized to invest in designing inclusive technology, and innovators continue to challenge the status quo, the future can only be brighter for those who live with disabilities. Whether young or old, starting out at school or reaching retirement, everyone has something to benefit from these advances in assistive and adaptive technology. With such big brands driving the market, it will be exciting to see how much progress can be made – and the differences it will bring to lives across the world – in the coming years.