This article was first published on Morning FUTURE here.
Robotic gloves, simplified mouse devices, voice-activated apps. Technology can become the best friend of people with disabilities. Recently, numerous hi-tech support devices have been developed, which can improve, support and facilitate a long list of operations that would otherwise be complicated. Especially during the last year, with the advent of the pandemic and lockdown, people have felt the need to have every possible kind of help at home. This also applies to continuing remote working.
World Health Organization data identifies about a billion people worldwide with cognitive, visual, hearing, motor or other forms of disabilities. This is where technological innovation tries to respond to different needs by providing all kinds of aids.
Take, for example, the Rapael smart glove developed by the software company Neofect. Its appearance is more akin to a wrist exoskeleton, but it is worn like a glove and is adapted to the hand to help the wearer make repeated movements over and over again at home, such as cutting food.
On the subject of cutting food, Oneware is the best example of how design can be combined with practicality and assistive support. It's a sink accessory designed for those who can use only one arm. It comprises a main frame, with modular units that include a cutting board and a silicone mesh mat for washing dishes. This particular design has a twofold purpose: to exert a tight grip on the foods to be cut and adapt perfectly to the kitchen so that it "blends in" with the décor.
In our new everyday life, where direct contacts with other people are reduced, it is vital to be able to have accessibility to the PC and to different technological devices to stay in touch with the outside world and continue to work remotely too.
There are several innovations that can help make the relationship with technology easier for people with disabilities. One example is Helpmini, a desktop keyboard very similar to the most common ones used. It is small in size and is designed for those with little hand movement and insufficient strength to type. The keys are 1 square centimetre and there are some buttons designed to emulate mouse movements and functions.
The Disability Mouse is also designed to support those with motor disabilities in the upper limbs when using the PC. It's a mouse with a very different design from a conventional mouse: you control it with your mouth for the direction and inhale air to make a click action.
And just to stay in the IT sector, there is also the AllinOne Touch PC. This is a computer comprising just a monitor with a multitouch function, which means using the touchscreen with two hands or by two people.
And we're not just talking about the PC, but also about smartphones featuring several interesting apps, such as reading apps for the visually impaired. EValues is one such app, available for both Android and iOS, which allows you to access the content present in the project of the same name using a voice-assisted reading service offering books and other written texts. There is a bibliography service for blind and visually impaired users.
Lookout, on the other hand, is an application which helps people with visual impairments enjoy greater independence at home. For instance, if they point their smartphone in one direction, Lookout provides a spoken description of their surroundings, including the objects in it, thanks to its artificial intelligence.
Whereas DIVersely Assisted, better known as DIVA, is a small portable device – a small box equipped with a button and a jack to connect it – which helps use Google's digital assistant without using the voice, thereby allowing you to independently switch on the TV, the music player and, in general, enjoy all its functions without even saying a word.
However, for more complex hardware support devices, you can look at ADA, an acronym for Assistive Dexterous Arm. This is a robotic arm developed by researchers at Washington University to help people with disabilities eat independently. The control software inside is powered by artificial intelligence and is able to recognise the type of food on the plate, pick it up and offer it for consumption in the most suitable way, thanks to the sensor system which allows the arm to orientate itself and move in space.
In addition, hi-tech accessibility can come out of the walls of your house and reach your work PC. This also applies to construction sites. Two companies based in Italy's South Tyrol region have produced a support device for controlling a crane with just one arm. One is Niederstätter, which operates in the construction machinery market, and the other is Unionbau, one of the largest construction firms in the region. The device is a transmitter equipped with a display, comprising a panel with buttons and levers, which allows workers to move and control industrial cranes even with one hand. This is the first remote control device made in Italy with a single joystick.