by Jeff Nichols, CEO of Mesa Developmental Services
When you think of things that assist people with disabilities to be more independent, you probably think of traditional devices such as wheelchairs, service animals, flashing alarm clocks and smoke detectors for people with hearing impairments, curb cuts and ramps for people with physical disabilities, braille for people with visual impairments … assistive technology that has been around for many years.
We are all keenly aware of how technology has changed how we work, how we are entertained, how we communicate, and how we consume or gather information. The development in recent years of technology to assist people with disabilities has had a huge impact on their ability to be more self-sufficient and less caregiver reliant.
As a service provider for people a wide range of special needs, we at MDS strive to connect the people we support with as much beneficial technology as possible to make their lives easier, to reduce the necessity and cost associated with care givers and to provide these individuals with the dignity associated with being able to provide for their own needs. The following are examples of technological advances you may not be aware of, which have a dramatic impact on people who need assistance with the activities of daily living, and most importantly, assist them in being a part of their community, communicating with others and having the freedom to live with minimal assistance:
- People who have limited or nontraditional communication skills feel isolated and shut off from normal social interactions. Traditional communication devices of recent years are cumbersome, artificial and undesirable as an alternative to communication for most people looking for ways to better communicate. Technology has completely and utterly changed lives. People who use alternative communication have gone from having no way of showing us how much they know , to using a portable device where they can express themselves, laugh and engage with others. This technology, especially through the use of iPads for children with autism, is in use in many schools and demonstrates the power of communication to one’s ability to connect with others. Touchscreen computers have provided a way of learning and communicating that plays to their strengths. As a result, devices like iPads are fast becoming a ‘must-have’ for many families of children with autism. In addition to the boost in communication ability, the interactivity of the technology has provided a huge step forward in understanding how people on the autism spectrum think. People living with autism have become more motivated to participate in life and improve their social skills thanks to new technology.
- Smart House technology can play a significant role in helping both elderly and people with disabilities enjoy a greater degree of independence. Computer technology reminds people when to take medications, turns off their lights, adjusts their house temperature, tells them when it is time to shop for certain staple food items and talks them through various activities of daily living. Touch screens assist people who do not have the dexterity to use a keyboard and mouse.
- Robotics offer human-friendly assistance in motion/mobility and advanced human-machine interfaces that provide simple control of all assistive robotic systems and home-installed appliances. The Smart House concept includes an intelligent bed, intelligent wheelchair, and robotic hoist for effortless transfer of the user between bed and wheelchair. The Smart House responds to the user’s commands as well as to the recognized intentions of the user. Various interfaces, based on hand gestures, voice, body movement, and posture, have been studied and tested.
- IPads allow people a simple user friendly way to access many important resources. They can play games that help with dexterity as well as simple to more complex thinking processes. They can also read books or draw on them, whatever activities that are best suited to their needs, while small and portable enough for them to carry with them.
- Voice recognition software for people who are unable to type but can speak. They can dictate letters using just their voice. It also allows them to control their computer with their voice.
We’ve only scratched the surface in developing technology that can provide dramatic quality of life improvement for children and adults with disabilities.