Mobility is freedom, and the ability to make independent choices with mobility is more valuable than most non-disabled people consider. The advances in technology that we’ve seen over the past few decades have brought the world closer together through internet access and smart phones, and technologies that make our individual lives more open have followed closely behind. Our world of tech increasingly creates opportunities to ensure we each have equal access to the world.
The technology sectors have taken it upon themselves to ask some interesting questions. How can gadgets that have been developed for recreational use also be utilized to make the lives of those with differing abilities richer? Can we be more creative in making the jobs of those in the care industry more efficient in order for them to place more emphasis on the level of assistance they are able to provide?
Technological advances have begun to make the world an even more intriguing landscape for all of us. It’s in our best interest to consider how differently some of us get to experience this. As the far-reaching potential of even the most seemingly minor of leaps is being explored, we see trends appear which help provide invaluable freedoms.
The Rise of Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence (AI) has historically been treated with a little suspicion. This is, of course, healthy; we must always be vigilant of how much autonomy over our lives we give to others — whether they’re a family member or a smartphone app. However, in exploring the potential applications for AI in communications industries, the industry has unlocked new ways in which it can be used to help those in the disability community live more independently.
What was perhaps considered futuristic has begun to appear in our midst; self-driving cars have not only become possible, but relatively practical and safe. While we’re not quite at the stage where all human interaction (and, more importantly, responsibility) has been eliminated from the driving process, these advances certainly act to make driving a realistic option for those who may not have had access to it in the past. AI in vehicles is currently being used to handle aspects of driving such as acceleration, deceleration, and even steering. Recently, Volkswagen launched their Inclusive Mobility Initiative to create self-driving cars specifically with the disability community in mind.
The strides made in helping technology to understand and predict human decision and behavior also provides vital new methods of communication for those with conditions which affect their speech and hearing. The Google DeepMind project in partnership with the University of Oxford has been teaching AI-controlled devices to lip read in real-time, significantly out-performing most human lip readers in terms of both accuracy and speed. There has also been an emergence of apps such as Voiceitt, which export corrected audio output for those who suffer from speech impediments as a result of stroke, brain injury, or chronic illnesses like cerebral palsy.
The Advances in Wheelchair Technology
Researchers and engineers are currently developing exoskeletal technology to help those with mobility-related disabilities to walk, but for the time being, it would seem that the wheelchair will remain a prominent feature of our society. That’s not to say that it is anything less than an entirely positive device, which has opened up mobility to millions of users for the past few centuries. However, strides are continuously being made to bring wheelchairs in line with our modern world.
Aside from the basic functioning of getting users from A to B, advances have also been made to help users independently undertake a wider variety of tasks. Manufacturers now produce solar-powered electric wheelchairs, allowing longer journeys with more electricity-hungry functions. Optional smart safety features are becoming more prevalent, allowing users to utilize combinations of GPS, sensors, and apps to detect obstacles, provide live reports to doctors and care staff, and automatically adjust to changes in terrain.
These technological leaps extend to comfort too, reducing the need to limit time spent out and about in the wheelchair. Manufacturers have started to introduce options such as smart cushion seats; monitoring pressure in real time, and creating a pressure map so that adjustments can automatically be made to reduce not only discomfort but also the risk of pressure ulcers. Accessibility isn’t necessarily about removing the wheelchair, it’s about making the wheelchair better designed for the lives of its users.
Taking Advantage of the Internet of Things
The internet of things (IoT) has slipped into the modern vernacular quite subtly, yet many remain unfamiliar with the concept. At its most basic level, it refers to the collection of smart devices that we keep around us that interact with one another with little or no requirement of human intervention. It doesn’t take much imagination to see that this concept opens up possibilities to improve mobility and lifestyle options.
Perhaps one of the most important ways in which IoT is being used is by improving safety in the field of aging in place. Virtual assistants, such as Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri, are being used in conjunction with both in-home and wearable sensor technology to monitor medication use, prevent falls, and contact nursing staff or emergency services when required. Amazon has even announced plans for their home smart devices to make it simpler for patients to securely access their medical records.
The nursing industry is significantly affected by advances in technology, from the handling of large amounts of electronic medical data to improvements in hospital patient alarm response. By utilising smart home and wearable technology, coupled with non-intrusive sensors, doctors and nursing staff can monitor their patient’s vital signs in real time. This may seem like a simple idea, but it prevents the need for patients to frequently attend doctor or hospital appointments; taking some of the strain off the medical industry, while seriously impacting the practicality of seniors aging in place. In very real ways, the combination of artificial intelligence and the evolving internet of things is making aging with dignity and freedom possible for a wider range of people.
We are a creative species, given to making leaps of innovation either due to need, or simply our insatiable curiosity. It is always our responsibility to ensure that these technological advances serve to empower us all access the evolving range of opportunities our world has to offer. By applying our ingenuity alongside empathy, we are capable of truly great feats; whether that’s exploring the depths of the universe, or making it possible to explore our own neighborhoods.
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