Assistive Technology: Innovations Driving Equity
READ THE ENTIRE FEBRUARY 2023 EDITION OF INSIDE EQUAL ACCESS
This article originally appeared in the February 2023 edition of Inside Equal Access.
Have you ever used speech to text on your phone? If so, then you’ve used assistive technology. Assistive technology is any type of technology, program, or design that enables those with disabilities to remove barriers in their everyday lives.
As with most accessibility designs, there are many pieces of assistive technology we use in our everyday lives without even realizing their intended purpose, from automatic door openers and elevators to microphones and closed captions.
While many types of assistive technology have been out for decades, recent innovations have made modifications to traditional assistive technologies enabling those with mobility related disabilities to blaze new trails.
While some wheelchair designs date back to the 17th century, new designs continue to be innovated every single year, most recently with the invention of all terrain wheelchairs. Looking more like a miniature tank, these wheelchairs have triangular treads instead of wheels, making them able to traverse outdoors, most notably on outdoor terrain in national parks.
Starting with Colorado Parks & Wildlife in 2017, all terrain wheelchairs are now being made available free to rent at national and state parks across the country including parks in Michigan, South Dakota, Minnesota, and most recently Georgia. Individuals are able to contact the parks in advance and book a chair for an outdoor excursion.
As James McBride, a state parks & recreation area program consultant with the Minnesota Parks and Trails division explained, “we want to create an unforgettable outdoor experience for everyone, not just for people who can walk. People have told us this is life-changing”.
One thing is for certain, there will be much more technological innovations to be revealed in the years ahead, Making the world not only more accessible for those with disabilities, but for all.
Some assistive technology advancements from the past continue to drive the innovation of new technology today. The company Liftware by Verily first came out with a design for the Liftware Steady in 2012, an assistive eating utensil for those with hand tremors. While those with hand tremors traditionally would have issue with keeping food on the utensils they use as they eat, the Lifeware Steady helped to counteract the tremors of a hand with advanced sensor and motor-based cancellation technology. This would help attached utensils to shake up to 70% less than they normally would.
In 2016 they came out with their newest innovation, the Liftware Level. This device took the technology of the Liftware Steady and integrated it into an assistive utensil to make eating for those with limited hand and arm mobility. The electronic handle of the device recognizes what position the user’s hand is in at all times and works to counteract any unwanted movements, keeping the food level no matter what angle the handle is turned. The device comes with a series of attachments and is also rechargeable via USB, making it convenient for a user.
This technology was then used and improved upon again recently by the makeup brand L’Oréal with the unveiling of the motorized make-up applicator earlier this year. Similar to its culinary counterpart, the “Hapta” allows people with limited hand and arm mobility to apply make-up steadily. The device comes with various magnetic attachments and allows a user to apply product in 360-degree rotations and 180 degree flexions.
The Hapta is the frontrunner in the cosmetics industry’s newest push to develop products that are more accessible for people with disabilities. Along with the Hapta came the announcement of a “Brow Magic Applicator”, a device that can be moved over eyebrows to produce personalized looks based on face scans through an accompanying app.
Assistive technology continues to evolve in every industry. From the adaptation of traditional technology to sharing of information and technology between industries, one thing is for certain, there will be much more innovations to be revealed in the years ahead, making the world not only more accessible for those with disabilities, but for all.
For more information about the assistive technology discussed in this article:
All Terrain Wheelchairs: