Everyone uses technology for different reasons – work, communication, playing games, and simply making life easier. For one segment of the population though, technology is more than a convenient way to get work done and have fun. It’s the key to a fulfilling life. For Americans with disabilities, assistive technology is an absolute necessity. Google, Apple, and other companies have recognized this and now make strides to improve technological options for persons with disabilities.
According to disabilityscoop.com, Google.org is now placing $20 million behind emerging technologies that will “[increase] independence for people living with disabilities.” Their initiative, dubbed the Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities, works with companies that provide prosthetics and hearing loss detection kits to those who need them.
Additionally, Google will work with other non-profit organizations to solve common issues people with disabilities face every day. For example, many people with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and visual problems have trouble driving or cannot drive at all. Depending on where they live, public transit may be minimal or nonexistent. Thus, Google is now working on driverless cars to increase this population’s mobility and access to leisure and networking activities. Other people with motor disabilities often struggle to eat easily, so Google is perfecting a tool called Liftware. This helps people with hand tremors manipulate silverware and eat independently.
Google is not the only company making strides with assistive technology, though. Apple iPads are allowing easier and better communication than ever for people with disabilities. Many news stories exist about the benefits children with disabilities glean from iPads. Yet recent developments show these devices can “break the silence” for adults with communication disabilities as well. For example, Travis Pilcher, a twenty-year-old man from Texas, could not speak for most of his life as a result of having Down Syndrome. His parents reported “[exhausting] mood swings and aggressive behavior” – until Pilcher’s school gave him an iPad as part of an initiative to help special education students communicate effectively.
Pilcher’s parents reported a “180-degree change” in their son’s communication and behavior. Other parents are noticing similar changes, and teachers are hailing iPads as a real breakthrough in their classrooms. Through iPads, students learn “motor plans” and develop language skills, with “immediate feedback” the student can control.
Devices like the one Travis Pilcher and his classmates use are equipped with software called Words for Life. The software carries about 5,000 words, including everything from simple words like “eat” to more advanced words, like “enchilada.” This ensures the students have a wide vocabulary and their preferences can be made known.