Technology aimed at assisting the physically disabled tends to be expensive, and issue-specific which can make finding a product that enhances the lifestyle of a challenged person difficult. There is a lot of fantastic mainstream wearable technology coming to the forefront of our daily lives. Recently introduced wearable devices such as the Pebble, Android Wear, and Apple Watch have received a lukewarm reception from the general public.
The impact of accessibility to these products is never championed in the news or big press releases. Huge marketing opportunities educating people about what these devices can be capable of are missed. Features that are finally being built-in to consumer-focused electronics with the ability to enhance the quality of life for individuals with disabilities are overlooked and ignored.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2014, 19% of the U. S. population reported at least one disability. That is about 57 million Americans. When you consider that over 650 million people world-wide have some sort of disability, you can see what a large audience there is who could benefit from affordable, mainstream products which would make their lives better.
An individual with Usher Syndrome who recently purchased an Apple Watch writes about how even though she has tunnel vision and is hard of hearing, she can wirelessly connect the watch to her hearing aids and use Siri to navigate her iPhone. She has even found a valid use for the haptic "digital touches" that have been downplayed as a novelty by many reviewers.
The Google Glass experiment which was bombarded by pre-emptive bans due to half-assed news articles about the privacy concerns has also been touted as a literal life changer. Here's a story of an experience with Google Glass through the eyes of a woman with cerebral palsy. Google Glass allows her to take pictures and browse the web on an interface she can easily use, which are tasks that previously were difficult--if not impossible, for her to do allowing her to be more independent.
I highly anticipate the second coming of Google Glass; freely taking pictures is one of those mundane things I really look forward to having the ability to do.
I have been an early adopter of wearables, starting with the Pebble when it was being funded on Kickstarter, moving to Android Wear once the LG G Watch was released. I can attest to some of the advantages that can be had. When I am not sitting, I am holding myself up with at least one crutch; out in public or over long distances I support myself with two of them. I have used both the Pebble watch and an Android Wear watch that syncs to an HTC One M7.
With both smartwatches I am able to check what calls and texts are coming in without having to stop or sit down and take out my phone. There have been countless times when my pocket would vibrate while I was walking across the street, or strolling in public. With one of these smartwatches I can check whether or not responding is needed immediately. (Of course, I’m still not stopping in the middle of the road to check my watch.) This has decreased a lot of mental anxiety for me, and saved a lot of time! The speech to text technology utilized by Google and Apple are already surpassing "Good enough" for getting commands across to the watch.
When it comes to walking directions–which is something I previously could never do without taking time to find a place to lean, or sit, take out my phone, navigate to maps, and memorize my next directions. Now when my wrist buzzes, I know to glance at it to make sure I'm going the right direction and I keep going.
These current technological advances are just the tip of the iceberg of what will surely be available in the future. This post doesn't even cover the amazing efforts put forth by the third party developers that create the unique experiences and tools that make these devices magical. It is up to us to share the benefits with as many people as possible. Maybe you know someone who could benefit from these awesome devices. The 21st century technology is leveling the playing field for people with various disabilities. Even George Jetson would be amazed.