History and evolution of assitive technology for people with disabilities

What is assistive technology?

According to Cynthia Borja it is any tool that allow people with disabilities to engage in the same activities as those without disabilities.

Within these categories there are tools such as:

  • Wheelchairs
  • Computers adapted with screen readers or Braille system
  • Hearing aids
  • Canes
  • Glasses

According to the AATA, assistive technology is a generic term for all systems and services related to the use of devices or support products and the provision of services in this regard.

These products must serve to enhance, supplant or maintain the functionality of the person.

The use of assistive technologies allows people to lead a more participatory and inclusive life as well as being productive. independent and dignified.

The lack of assistive technologies can generate isolation, mental and emotional problems, economic deprivation due to lack of employment, development of other physical ailments and new diseases.

For the AATA, the difference between assistive technology and assistive products lies in the fact that the first one includes the products and services used to provide assistive solutions that combined with the opportunities to use them in different areas and without prejudice allows for the functionality and participation of individuals while the assistive products are the devices,  equipment, instruments and software developed for people with disabilities.

Brief history of assistive technologies.

Support devices have existed since people have had the need to make up for a lack or decrease in the functionality of a limb such as: a metal hook in the hand, a wooden leg, a glass to improve eyesight or an animal horn to improve their hearing.

All of these adaptations did not undergo much change until after the American Civil War when prosthetics for legs and arms that were fitted onto one another were created.

During the 80's when the arrival of microprocessors allowed innovation in the manufacture of devices and experiments with newer and easier to handle materials, which allows them to be more economical and functional.

This is where computers with audio talking systems for the visually impaired and hearing aids first appeared.

During this decade they were called technologies for rehabilitation, but in the 90's they were renamed as assistive technologies to  better adapt to the inclusive and universal sense that encompasses all the advances within the various branches of support.

Currently, assistive technology has reached a breakthrough with artificial intelligence that allows devices to communicate and support the user in a more efficient and accurate way.

The best example of the above is found in the apps developed for mobile devices where accessibility is not the only end goal but also usability and functionality based on the preferences of users, so feedback is sent to developers with the intention of improving the experience with each update and some apps also give free support to the user.

Today we can find assistive technologies for:

  • Therapy
  • Orthotics and prostheses
  • Care and personal hygiene
  • Mobility
  • Home Care
  • Furniture and adaptations for homes and buildings
  • Communication, information and signage
  • Manipulation of objects and devices
  • Adaptation of utensils and machines
  • Leisure and free time

The current trend is to have greater integration by incorporating integrating development centers where, in addition to researching and developing databases, accessible web portals, employment centers and job training with active personnel in awareness policies are also created. These centers will also provide services like courses and public talks.

The difficulties in accessing assistive technology have to do with:

  1. Public policies with programs designed in a non-inclusive way for all sectors
  2. Those related to financing and availability of the product since they currently focus on countries with high purchasing value
  3. Lack of trained personnel to prescribe and train people on their use.

Assistive technology can be classified according to:

  1. The technological level with which they were developed
  2. The characteristics with which they were manufactured
  3. The type of target users depending on their disability
  4. Whether they are an alternative or a substitute

For Clinic Cloud, the design of assistive technologies determines the qualities and attributes to be gathered to meet the expectations of use.

In principle, the ergonomic design was geared towards the average user but then a design meant for all users, including those with disabilities, emerged.

In most low-income countries, only 5-20% of people have access to assistive technologies.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities mentions the importance of assistive devices and calls on states to promote access to them as well as training for their use.

Below we will describe some assistive technologies that have been developed for different disabilities.

For motor disability:

  1. Maltron head/mouth stick keyboard. - Keyboard adapted for those people who cannot write with their hands or feet, the head is used to write.
  2. Smart cane. Equipped with artificial intelligence capable of detecting unusual movements in the user or inactivity, the smart canes have GPS and motion sensors that detect falls or sudden movements infrequent in its memory logs. Through these they can detect the danger and warn the person's relatives via text message or call through the app so that they come to their aid.; in the same way they inform the users that the message was received so they know that the help is on the way. Among these we can find the intelligent Dring-Cane.
  3. Voice recognition software.-For people with motor disabilities to control the computer using their voice. Among these we find the Dragon speech recognition and LumenVoz.
  4. Stair-climbing wheelchair. It is a robotic chair with legs that move to climb steps, go around obstacles and move through uneven terrain. For user safety it has stabilizers to maintain balance. One option is the Chiba Tech chair.

For visual impairment:

  1. In order to move around the city and find directions, there are multiple devices that serve as GPS that announce the streets, crossings and places where one can walk while also allowing to plan routes and follow paths traced. Among these we find devices such as the Treckker Breeze Handheld and applications such as Lazarillo, Follow me, Moovit etc.
  2. White cane.- It is undoubtedly the most widely used device among people with visual disabilities, first because it allows them to move independently identifying the obstacles on the floor and second, because it allows others to identify them as people with disabilities. The traditional cane is made of aluminum and currently some offer talking technology to help them in the detection of objects on the floor that are nearby and with which they may have accidents.
  3. Mobile device apps with which you can make real-time video calls to volunteers around the world that help you recognize objects, labels, clothes and colors, places and a host of simple things that can be carried out remotely. Among them the most popular is Be my eyes.
  4. The eye on the camera. Artificial intelligence allows a visually impaired person to recognize texts, currencies, scenes, descriptions of people, colors etc. through the camera of a Smartphone; the only thing one needs to do is open the application and point the camera at what one wants to recognize or take a photograph; in seconds the App will auditorily indicate the results. Some apps in this category are Seeing AI and TapTapSee.
  5. Haptic Language: Ara from Strap Tech, has developed a device with sensors to alert the user about possible obstacles, and through vibration patterns in the device and the straps, gives you indications on how to react. It is a very advanced technology, similar to that found in driver-less cars. With this device Ara increases the travel speed by up to 50% and reduces accidents up to 70%, many of which happen at the head level.

For people with hearing impairment:

  1. Vibrating alarms that are placed under the mattress or pillow. These make a strong and constant vibration at the scheduled time and until the person cancels. An example is the Bibralarm in conjunction with the Vibes bedshaker.
  2. For those who want to have communication by a landline there are devices that are installed to the telephone lines and that are used as a typewriter with a small screen that transmits the written message throughthe computer to the other person. The most popular is the TDD (Telecommunications device for the deaf).
  3. SignArte.- This is a free mobile application funded by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport that allows people with hearing disabilities traveling to other cities or countries to know which tourist and cultural places are inclusive. The description of these places is detailed through videos with sign language.
  4. Visualfy Home.- This application detects all the sounds inside a house and warns you on your different smart devices in real time.

For people with intellectual disabilities:

  1. Cognitive platforms.  This type of assistive technology contributes to the person developing in a faster and more efficient way their comprehension skills such as memory, anticipation and decision making, impulse control, flexibility of thought, self-esteem and development of social skills etc. One of them is NeuronUp and MeFacilita.
  2. Apps that help people with intellectual disabilities organize their day to day. From helping one with simple phrases adjusted to the daily routine, scheduling events or activities on the calendar, telling them where they are at that moment and remembering pending work are some of the things that these apps can do. Here we can find the apps of SoyCapaz and DíLo.
  3. Devices for emotional support. People can suffer crises at any time and won't have someone near them for support. Devices have been created that measure emotions and if you are in a moment of crisis they will deliver a support strategy. One of these Smartwatch Apps is called Taimun Watch.











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