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5 Ways Technology Is Improving Quality of Life for People with Disabilities

It’s an incredible time to be alive. Technology is advancing in leaps and bounds, and with every step forward, we’re able to bring improvements to our daily lives. This is particularly true in the case of people who are living with disabilities. Scientists are developing new technologies and products every day that boost the quality of life of those who have disabilities to work with. Below, we’ve gathered some of the coolest examples we’ve seen in recent years:

1. Refreshable Braille Displays

By embossing pages with a series of configurations of raised dots, each configuration representing a different letter, the braille writing system allows blind people to read. When it was invented in the early 19th century, the braille writing system changed the world for people who previously had almost no access to the written word. The new method of communication and expression opened avenues that had previously been locked.

But as communication began to transition to the internet, similar problems arose. The information displayed on the computer screens was difficult to translate efficiently into braille. To combat this, researchers have been developing refreshable braille displays using electroactive polymer film that responds to electricity. These displays adapt to convert letters, graphical information, and mathematical equations into braille. As research progresses, these displays are becoming more affordable and more accessible to the vision impaired.

2. 3D Printing

3D printing is a relatively new technology that has been racing forward and is offering impressive new solutions in a variety of fields, particularly medicine. There have been instances of experts using 3D printing technology to create airway splints for newborns and infants, prosthetic limbs for amputees, and even new skin for burn victims. Audiologists are able to use the technology to print hearing aid shells that are custom-fitted to their patients, as well as dental bridges and crowns using digital scans of patients’ teeth and the insides of their mouths.

The technology is of particular value to young children with missing limbs. As these children grow, their prosthetic limbs no longer fit, and prostheses can be very expensive to replace. 3D printers make it possible to scale the designs to fit the growing child and reprint new ones as the child grows out of previous versions.

3. Video Description Services

According to a 1997 study by the American Foundation for the Blind, blind and visually impaired people watch television and video recordings about as often as fully sighted people. However, often, they find the experience to be frustrating, because they can’t see what is happening on the screen.

To combat this, many videos now employ video description services, which involve an additional audio track that contains audible descriptions of the visible action. Experts will view the material, create the audio tracks, and embed them into the final product. Video streaming technology now allows these tracks to be provided but not required, meaning sighted and non-sighted people can access the same video, with the non-sighted people enabling the extra track.

4. Driverless Cars

For decades, one of the symbols of technological advancement has been the self-driving car. From the cheesy science fiction shows of the 1960s to Hollywood blockbusters in recent years, seeing a car that could take a passenger from one point to another without the need of a driver is a sure sign that the story takes place in The Future.

These days, however, that future doesn’t seem quite so far off. Several car companies, such as Ford and Tesla, as well as tech-based companies like the ride-sharing giant Uber and the colossal Google, have been pouring resources into the race to be the first to release a self-driving car. It will likely only be a matter of a few short years before those dreams come to fruition, and that will mean big changes for people living with disabilities. Suddenly, there will be no need to ask for a ride or worry about seeing the road. Seniors who have given up their licenses will still be able to travel just as they did before.

5. Finger Readers

The Finger Reader is a new, wearable tool that makes the written word more accessible. The user wears the device on his or her index finger and scans the finger over printed text, either on a book or on an electronic device. The device provides audible feedback in one of two functions: either the book reads the printed text aloud, or it translates the text into a different language before vocalizing it. If the user’s finger reaches the end of a line of text or accidentally wanders onto a different line of text, the device will vibrate to alert them.

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