international, south africa

New innovations to assist persons with disabilities – Article 2 (technology)

Helping people with disabilities to communicate (App)

Rebecca Bright was recently named one of the winners of Virgin Media Business’ Voom 2018 competition for her business, Therapy Box. Trained as a speech and language therapist in Australia, after graduating she noticed that the communication aids that were on the market at the time were expensive. She and her husband wanted to look at how to create an iPhone app to help people with motor neurone disease to be able to communicate once they lost their speech. The app launched in January 2011 and went on to be a big success. It is now in 11 languages and used by over 200,000 people.

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Helping parents with hearing impairments to hear their baby cry (App)

Dr Ariana Anderson at the UCLA Medical Center and Semel Institute wanted no parent left feeling like they’re in the dark when it comes to their baby. The Chatterbaby app is aimed to help thousands of other parents feel more empowered when it comes to attending to their children. It accomplishes two major feats i.e. alerting parents when their children are crying and offering an explanation of the cause, which assists members of the deaf community in their quest to interpret their baby’s needs. Although the app is still in development, Dr Anderson and her team have already collected a database of over 2,000 baby cries and had deaf parents test the app to see where it’s most and least effective. The app has had a 90% accuracy rating so far.

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Helping people with visual impairments to navigate their environment (App)


Google has announced one of its upcoming apps called Lookout and it has nothing to do with the mobile security application of the same name. Lookout was designed to help the visually impaired be more independent by giving them spoken notifications about their environment. For instance, it can tell them that there’s a “chair 3 o’clock,” so they don’t bump into the object to their right. The app can also read texts, such as Exit signs over doors.

The application has four modes to choose from: Home, Work & Play, Scan or Experimental. The app will use machine learning to figure out what visually impaired users deem important and worth hearing about. So, the more people use it, the better it becomes. No specific date was mentioned so far for the release.

Be My Eyes

Be My Eyes is a free app that connects people with visual impairments with sighted volunteers and company representatives for visual assistance through a live video call. You can either use it as a person with a visual impairment to ask people for assistance or you can volunteer to assist people with visual impairments by also downloading the app. The app will inform you when someone needs assistance.

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Controller for Gamers with Disabilities

Microsoft has a new control system on the way designed specifically for those with limited mobility, which through a base unit and add-ons will make playing Xbox One games a lot easier for those who might struggle with the current controller.

The Xbox Adaptive Controller features a large white base unit, which has a few buttons and large pads on it, but the real meat comes from the back of the controller, which has room for a ton of extra joystick and button inputs that can be fully customised via both their plugs and an app.

Designed primarily for gamers with limited mobility, the Xbox Adaptive Controller allows you to create a custom controller experience that can be adapted to meet the needs of people with various disabilities in an affordable way. We gained feedback from people with disabilities and collaborated with gamers to build an accessible controller from the ground up, and I think this will make a huge difference for gamers of all abilities — connecting more gamers than ever before.

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Augmented Reality to assist persons with visual impairment

A company called eSight has been using augmented reality technology to give visually impaired people their sight back for quite some time. eSight was started with inspiration from the founder’s two legally blind sisters. He imagined a better world for them, without the challenges in education, mobility, employment and independence that most visually impaired people experience in their day to day lives. The eSight system consists of a simple setup with some glasses and a controller. The glasses are made to be lightweight, and fit similarly to sunglasses which users can customize with their prescription. Unfortunately, those who are entirely blind cannot benefit from this technology since eSight does not feature any kind of implant technology, but those who are extremely near-sighted or farsighted, or may have visual issues like cataracts, glaucoma or optic nerve disorders will be able to enjoy clear vision that eSight says rivals that of a fully sighted individual.

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3D printing helping people with visual impairments

Researchers at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom have successfully created the first ever 3D-printed cornea .British scientists combined human stem cells with a mixture of alginate and collagen to produce a “bio-ink” that can be used by a 3D printer. The durable yet flexible combination can reportedly be turned into the outer lens of the eye, which light passes through on its way to the retina in less than 10 minutes. Prof. Connon noted that there is a shortage of human corneas available for transplant around the world. He believes that bio-ink could solve the problem in the future. Newcastle University says the 3D corneas will have to be tested before they are cleared for use in human transplants.

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Technological accessibility in the modern world

Microsoft has enhanced many existing features including Ease of Access settings in Windows 10 and more built-in settings such as Read Aloud and Dictate in Office 365 to assist persons with disabilities. They are also revealing new Office 365 features to ensure inclusiveness and ensure equal access to information for people with disabilities. Google Chrome also provides various extensions to assist people that may have special needs.

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Stars and Stripes, all so bright – a story of traveling with a disability

During the holidays I was fortunate enough to go traveling in the US, as a South African tourist and I was completely amazed at how most businesses are focused on ensuring that they are accessible to people with disabilities. 

The trip started at the airports where full assistance was given to persons in wheelchairs with a porter ensuring that you are at the correct terminal at the right time. They even assisted with checking in.

From the airport, we were greeted by taxis that have now been replaced by vehicles that are more accessible for persons in wheelchairs and can host wheelchairs as well. Trains and buses had specific seats allocated for persons with disabilities as well. Most of the subways also had elevators, not only stairs, so to assist with accessibility. 

As we started our traveling, we found that the majority of businesses had alternative entrances that are accessible to wheelchair users and in public spaces where ramps were steep, there were warnings as well.

We were amazed during our trip to see how the country had made a conscious decision to include persons with disabilities in everyday life. Yes, there were cases where improvements could be made but overall it really felt that persons with disabilities had become more of a priority and it made our trip even more spectacular. 

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Google local guides helping people with disabilities

This month there were various  international disability days i.e. World Osteoporosis Day (20 October), World Polio Day (24 October), World Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus Day (25 October) and World Stroke Day (29 October).

All of these types of disabilities could lead to certain accessibility needs. As a follow-up on the article posted on 18 October 2017, it is good to note what successes have been achieved through Google Local Guides to assist with the accessibility needs of persons with disability. These include that 7 million people joined the effort (0,1% of the total world population). These local guides assisted in answering 51 million accessibility questions of 12 million places globally.

This is great progress in addressing accessibility needs of persons with disability although even more local guides are needed to be able to assist the estimated 700 million people with disabilities.

Below are some videos of testimonies of how the local guides helped people with disabilities get information on accessible places.

Read more on how to get involved and become a local guide:





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Using Google Maps for accessibility info

Technology is evolving more and more and people relying more on services such as Google Maps to help them find places such as schools, restaurants and other landmarks within communities.

The need for inclusive communities for persons with disabilities has become a topic of discussion over the past few years. Google Maps decided to call on their Local Guides (people who review places for them) to assist in identifying places in different communities that are accessible to persons in wheelchairs. This would assist not only persons with disabilities but also families of persons using wheelchairs.



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Virtual Reality (VR) not just for gamers but also for amputees



Virtual Reality (VR) has become more and more of a household name when it comes to the latest technology. We use it in our computer games. Several professional sectors such as architecture and engineering have used it to help us feel as if we are in a real situation e.g. feeling like we are walking through a castle whilst we are at home.

However, medical science has also now started to look at how VR can be used in their sector. One such way is by using VR as a form of therapy for amputees suffering from phantom limb pain. Many amputees have reported that they  feel as if the limb they lost is still there and that they sometimes feel it itching or pain but that they usually cannot do anything about this because the limb is not physically there to treat. VR, however, can assist with this by “tricking” their brain to believe that the limb is still there and “treating” it.

VR could not only assist amputees but also other  types of disabilities such as patients that suffered strokes and, maybe in the future, other types of therapies within the health sector.


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