• Thu. Jun 8th, 2023

Assistive technologies: towards communication, understanding, leisure, and independence


May 26, 2023

Be it finishing up his homework for the day, or accessing the laptop lab in the college he attends, a basic, but properly-believed-out device is what 14-year-old Madhav*, a student with muscular dystrophy makes use of. Due to the fact he can’t move his arms, Madhav accesses computer systems and other clever devices hands-no cost with the enable of ‘Mousewear’ strapped on his head. 

From electric wheelchairs and hearing aids to devices like ‘Mousewear’, there has been steady innovation, and an evolution of assistive technologies, to enable young children with a variety of disabilities focusing on understanding, communication, mobility, and most importantly- leisure.

The Planet Well being Organisation (WHO) defines “Assistive Technology” as an umbrella term covering systems and solutions associated to the delivery of assistive items and solutions aimed at preserving or enhancing an individual’s functioning or independence. 

According to estimates by WHO, two.five billion men and women globe more than require one particular or extra assistive devices. These numbers are anticipated to improve beyond three.five billion by 2050 provided a worldwide ageing population and a rise in non-communicable illnesses.

Possessing extensively worked with young-adults who are on the autism spectrum, Kavitha Krishnamurthy, Co-Founder of CanBridge Academy, says technologies powered assistive devices which enable with communication have been a ‘game changer’. 

Game changer for communication

“For young children and young-adults with autism who are non-vocal, or even these who have restricted language expertise, an app like Avaz AAC is drastically supportive. Youngsters are capable to communicate superior with this, and we in turn, get some insight into how a great deal they know and have learnt,” she mentioned. 

A image and text-primarily based AAC app that empowers young children and adults with complicated communication requires to express themselves and find out, Avaz was designed by Invention Labs, a commence-up from IIT Madras. In the course of the pandemic when the use of electronic devices enhanced, parents whose young children and young-adults study at CanBridge went by means of substantial sessions with Akila Vaidyanathan, founder and Director, Amaze Charitable Trust, Coimbatore, on how they can facilitate the use of Avaz superior. 

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“Compared to yen years ago, we are capable to do so a great deal extra now owing to the technologies out there. The concentrate is on creating understanding, communication, and leisure for young children with disabilities simple and intuitive — some thing technologies has played a substantial component in,” Ms. Kavitha adds. 

When it comes to communication in specific, there’s a lot of emphasis on independence and what assistive technologies can do for the similar. Recently, as a component of the Worldwide Accessibility Awareness Day, Alexa, an A.I. service created by Amazon and Avaz, came with each other to highlight how young children on the autism spectrum can use their tech. 

A non-verbal kid on the autism spectrum, Rudransh, a six-year-old boy communicates to his loved ones by means of non-verbal gestures and prompts them to use the Alexa Device to play a song. After he began applying Avaz, his parents employed the app to audio record and pre-system Alexa commands to play his favourite songs- enabling him to independently access the device. 

Assistive technologies: homegrown and extra

A take a look at to Chennai’s quite personal Museum of Possibilities is a clearly shows how far assistive technologies has come more than the years, and the sheer quantity of devices out there in the marketplace — particularly these that are homegrown. 

Vidyasagar, an organisation operating with and for persons with disabilities, which collaborated with the Tamil Nadu Government towards setting up the museum, has for extended been a pioneer when it comes to assistive technologies- particularly in their function with young children who have a variety of disabilities. 

“As a parent or as a qualified, we function with the aim of creating young children and young adults as independent as achievable. We are in an era with immense access to assistive technologies- and at Vidyasagar, we bring this in as early as achievable. With the enable of a battery or even a compact switch, the toys that young children start to play with can be created accessible, and we then function on assisting them use technologies to access rhymes and songs on the web,” mentioned Kalpana Rao, principal, Day Care Centre, Vidyasagar. 

In their function more than the years, Vidyasagar hasn’t stopped at basically making sure the availability of accessible and very affordable technologies and devices for young children. The organisation has designed their personal switch – VINNER VBosS – a plug and play USB device, programmed to allow the left click of a mouse. This is aimed to enable men and women with restricted motor expertise who have a dilemma with accessing a keyboard or a mouse, and can be attached to a laptop, tablet or any clever device. 

For young children, apps such as Avaz, and Study Please Plus which facilitate communication by means of Text-to-Speech, are introduced by way of laptops or bigger clever devices in schools, As they develop older, clever phones come into the image.

At schools that exclusively cater to young children with particular requires, there is no dearth of technologies like this. An early innovation in the field of assistive technologies and some thing that continues to be of utmost significance – screen readers, as properly as audio recordings, tactile photographs and extra are favoured by students at the Nethrodaya No cost Residential Larger Secondary College for students who are visually impaired. 

The school’s founder C. Govindakrishnan says, there is a complete dimension to assistive technologies for the visually-impaired which is typically ignored. “There is a particular ‘’traditional’ tag provided to persons who are visually impaired and we are anticipated to nevertheless only stick to applying Braille. When the globe has moved on by leaps and bounds technologically, it is only fair that we be provided a opportunity to discover the similar by means of assistive technologies out there for us,” he says. 

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Students at the college are introduced to computer systems from major college alongside Braille, and grow to be familiar as they develop older with screen reader apps. “In the final handful of years, I’ve observed students favor audio recordings of lectures or even their books, which are study out and recorded by volunteers to applying a screen reader. The Tamil Nadu Government’s video lessons primarily based on their textbooks which are out there on the web as well are immensely beneficial,” Mr. Govindakrishnan explains.

The truth is, students have been embracing technologies more quickly than ever, particularly soon after the pandemic exactly where there was an upswing in the use of electronic devices owing to the closure of schools.

“While we insist on applying computer systems or laptops more than smartphones for young students, as they develop older, smartphones come to be particularly valuable to access tech like this,” he adds. A employees member at his college says that for students, there is no dearth of alternatives when it comes to screen reader apps. “There are more than one hundred apps that students can use- the most common ones amongst these becoming JAWS (Job Access with Speech), and NVDA (Non Visual Desktop Access).”


Innovations could be aplenty, but simple are these to access, particularly in mainstream schools?

With ‘Mouseware’, Pravin Kumar, CEO, Dextroware, a commence-up in IIT Madras underscores how vital it is for each the parent and college neighborhood to be conscious of such assistive devices and make certain young children have access to them. A head-wearable device, Mouseware has a compact sensor box which is mounted on the head of the user who will then be capable to handle a laptop or smartphone with head movements. The clicks can be carried out by means of a foot-operated switch, or other switches which can be customise ddepending on the user’s physical potential.  

“The presence of a device like this in the laptop lab of a mainstream college for instance, will be of wonderful enable to students with disabilities studying there. We require to go beyond ramps and make understanding spaces accessible for all young children,” he adds.

Even though there is immense concentrate on understanding and communication for young children with physical and intellectual disabilities, assistive technologies that facilitates leisure is equally, if not extra vital, professionals say. 

Assistive technologies for leisure

For neurodivergent young children and young adults who are resistant to go out to public spaces which consist of parks, film theatres or the beach, VR and AR devices are proving to be particularly valuable. They are encouraged to knowledge stimulations of these spaces a number of occasions, till they are comfy with the concept of going to the actual space. 

“Virtual and Augmented Reality assists us address quite a few sensory challenges that young children could face. What we perceive as particularly standard and common, could bother them and in this circumstance, these simulations come in handy,” mentioned Durga Priya, Head of Therapy, Mirra Charitable Trust.

From applying an XBox 360 which has games that young children with restricted movement can participate in and delight in, to applying songs and games especially developed for young children in her sessions, Ms. Durga mentioned that young children take to the visual element that these technologies have which tends to make it simple for them to adhere to and comprehend. Operating with neurodiverse people, Ms Durga mentioned that there are a variety of assistive technologies that enable address various regions- physical therapy, movement, social navigation and a great deal extra. 

“For young children who have movement challenges or the weakness of one particular limb, we use Smart glove — a wearable device which assists them operate a virtual keyboard. Physique vests come in handy for young children who have gravitational insecurity,” she says.

Challenges, and the way forward

As is the case with any new technologies, hesitation, and even resistance to a particular extent is not far away when it comes to assistive technologies as properly. This particularly, for technologies or devices that concentrate on understanding and communication.

“While some parents are immediately enthusiastic, there is a section that desires to steer clear of gadgets or apps for communication and are hesitant to introduce it to their young children in the worry that they could be glued to it. Parents think that this could cut down social interaction even additional,” mentioned Radha Nandhakumar, founder and managing trustee, Gurukulam, an integrated centre for young children with particular requires.

Even though she says that assistive technologies applications like Avaz can facilitate communication, she stresses on the require for proficiently applying them and the significance of extra awareness in this regard. “Any assistive technologies for communication in specific, need to be employed judiciously and only to facilitate, not replace the all-natural improvement method,” Ms. Radha adds.

A Senior Occupational Therapist, and President, Tamil Nadu Occupational Therapists Association, V. Vanchinathan highlights an additional vital aspect of assistive devices and technologies- customisation. “Any adaptive device has to initial be customised according to the requires of the person. Each and every individual’s physical and mental skills will be various- and a one particular-size fits all method can’t be taken with regard to any device or technologies for a variety of disabilities,” he says.

He additional stresses on the significance of going by an evaluation and suggestions of an occupational therapist. “They play a very important part in the evaluation of the person and the atmosphere they are in. People need to verify with certified occupational therapists, who will be capable to guide them on how to customise assistive devices or technologies to their needs with regard to the style and components employed,” he added. 

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