ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGIES

Ed. Note: This post by Kaustub Bhati is a part of the TLF Editorial Board Test 2016.

Have you ever seen a Paralympic athlete run and wondered how is he doing that? The answer to that query is assistive technology. Assistive Technology is basically an umbrella term, used for any software or hardware designed to help a user get past the area of their disabilities. It encompasses any device which helps assist, adapt and rehabilitate a disabled person.

Disability is seen as a socially constructed phenomenon that results from barriers that are present in the environment. This view of disability locates it within the environment rather than the person[1] and Well-designed high quality assistive devices, or daily living aids, that support independent living for the handicapped and disabled, seniors, or those with a medical condition or injury should make life easier and safer for the aged and disabled.

Technology is a ubiquitous part of our daily life which makes our daily tasks simpler and the devices that have sprouted from this realm of technology ranges from a simple walking frame to whole exoskeletons for people who cannot support themselves to brain and spinal implants helping quadriplegic people to control robots using just their thoughts. Professor John Donoghue, creator of BrainGate, achieved this feat of sending brain signals to robotic arms to move around. The only problem with this technology is that such implants tend to abrade tissues, cause inflammation and finally rejection of the implant by the host body but this problem is seemed to have been solved by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. They have made a flexible implant named ‘e-dura’ which is made from a silicone rubber that has the same elasticity as dura mater, the protective skin that surrounds the spinal cord and brain and has the potential to correct nerve damage. It has successfully gone through animal testing and is up for human test phase. The World Health Organisation organized a key stakeholders meeting in Geneva on 3 and 4 July 2014 and established a global initiative: the Global Cooperation on Assistive Technology (GATE). This is in partnership with stakeholders who represent international organizations, donor agencies, professional organizations, academia, and user groups. The vision of the GATE initiative: A world where everyone in need has high-quality, affordable assistive products to lead a healthy, productive and dignified life. The GATE initiative has only one goal: to improve access to high-quality affordable assistive products globally.[2] In India too, Universities such as IIT Delhi work extensively in this field and have come up with some unique technologies of their own such as, The Refreshable Braille Display, a device that enables people with visually impairment to read digital text through tactile interface, that is, it gives a line-by-line embossed braille script on the display of textual Content in PDF format.[3] Other such inventions sponsored by the government of India are, the SmartCane, a device that uses ultrasonic ranging to detect objects in its path and generates tactile output in the form of different vibratory patterns. These vibrations convey the distance information and thus enable the user to negotiate the obstacles from a safe distance.[4]

Indian companies such as BarrierBreak, in lieu of world leaders in assistive technologies from Israel such as PresenTense, ParaTrek and Sesame Enable, are the frontrunners in this field. In collaboration with Royal National Institute of Blind People and the W3C Consortium (World Wide Web Consortium) they are paving the way for greater cohesion of technology and social need.

Assistive Technologies promotes greater independence by enabling people to perform tasks that they were formerly unable to accomplish, or had great difficulty accomplishing, by providing enhancements to or changed methods of interacting with the technology needed to accomplish such tasks. This is a very exciting time for new developments in assistive technology. Not only are existing AT programs regularly updated, but new and previously unseen technology is on-route to improve accessibility for persons with disabilities.[5]

By contemporary approximations, more than 4,000 assistive technologies have been designed for the disabled and seniors. These devices include the whole shebang, from wheelchairs to a wide assortment of high-tech tools and many companies today are turning their research and expansion to assistive technologies.[6] It is a turf which should be encouraged by governments worldwide to encourage emerging entrepreneurs and start-ups in actively engaging and inventing new technologies to help the disabled all-around the globe.

[1]  Albert M. Cook, Janice Miller Polgar, Assistive Technologies: Principles and Practice

[2] Global Cooperation on Assistive Technology (GATE), http://www.who.int/phi/implementation/assistive_technology/phi_gate/en/

[3] Assitech, http://assistech.iitd.ernet.in/

[4] Ibid

[5] Assistive Technology: Devices Products & Information, http://www.disabled-world.com/assistivedevices/

[6] Ibid

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