• Fri. Jun 2nd, 2023

Assistive expertise: in direction of communication, studying, leisure, and independence


May 26, 2023

Be it ending up his homework for the day, or accessing the pc lab within the faculty he attends, a easy, but well-thought-out machine is what 14-year-old Madhav*, a scholar with muscular dystrophy makes use of. Since he can not transfer his arms, Madhav accesses computer systems and different good gadgets hands-free with the assistance of ‘Mousewear’ strapped on his head. 

From electrical wheelchairs and listening to aids to gadgets like ‘Mousewear’, there was regular innovation, and an evolution of assistive applied sciences, to assist kids with a spread of disabilities specializing in studying, communication, mobility, and most importantly- leisure.

The World Well being Organisation (WHO) defines “Assistive Know-how” as an umbrella time period masking techniques and companies associated to the supply of assistive services and products aimed toward sustaining or enhancing a person’s functioning or independence. 

In line with estimates by WHO, 2.5 billion folks world over want a number of assistive gadgets. These numbers are anticipated to extend past 3.5 billion by 2050 given a world ageing inhabitants and an increase in non-communicable ailments.

Having extensively labored with young-adults who’re on the autism spectrum, Kavitha Krishnamurthy, Co-Founding father of CanBridge Academy, says expertise powered assistive gadgets which assist with communication have been a ‘sport changer’. 

Recreation changer for communication

“For youngsters and young-adults with autism who’re non-vocal, and even those that have restricted language abilities, an app like Avaz AAC is vastly supportive. Youngsters are capable of talk higher with this, and we in flip, get some perception into how a lot they know and have learnt,” she stated. 

An image and text-based AAC app that empowers kids and adults with complicated communication wants to precise themselves and be taught, Avaz was created by Invention Labs, a start-up from IIT Madras. Throughout the pandemic when the usage of digital gadgets elevated, mother and father whose kids and young-adults examine at CanBridge went by means of intensive periods with Akila Vaidyanathan, founder and Director, Amaze Charitable Belief, Coimbatore, on how they will facilitate the usage of Avaz higher. 

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“In comparison with yen years in the past, we’re in a position to take action far more now owing to the expertise obtainable. The main focus is on making studying, communication, and leisure for kids with disabilities simple and intuitive — one thing expertise has performed an enormous half in,” Ms. Kavitha provides. 

In terms of communication particularly, there’s a number of emphasis on independence and what assistive expertise can do for a similar. Not too long ago, as part of the World Accessibility Consciousness Day, Alexa, an A.I. service developed by Amazon and Avaz, got here collectively to focus on how kids on the autism spectrum can use their tech. 

A non-verbal little one on the autism spectrum, Rudransh, a six-year-old boy communicates to his household by means of non-verbal gestures and prompts them to make use of the Alexa Machine to play a music. As soon as he began utilizing Avaz, his mother and father used the app to audio report and pre-program Alexa instructions to play his favorite songs- enabling him to independently entry the machine. 

Assistive expertise: homegrown and extra

A go to to Chennai’s very personal Museum of Potentialities is a clearly reveals how far assistive expertise has come over time, and the sheer variety of gadgets obtainable available in the market — particularly these which can be homegrown. 

Vidyasagar, an organisation working with and for individuals with disabilities, which collaborated with the Tamil Nadu Authorities in direction of establishing the museum, has for lengthy been a pioneer relating to assistive technology- particularly of their work with kids who’ve a spread of disabilities. 

“As a mum or dad or as knowledgeable, we work with the goal of creating kids and younger adults as impartial as attainable. We’re in an period with immense entry to assistive technology- and at Vidyasagar, we carry this in as early as attainable. With the assistance of a battery or perhaps a small change, the toys that kids start to play with may be made accessible, and we then work on serving to them use expertise to entry rhymes and songs on-line,” stated Kalpana Rao, principal, Day Care Centre, Vidyasagar. 

Of their work over time, Vidyasagar hasn’t stopped at merely guaranteeing the supply of accessible and inexpensive applied sciences and gadgets for kids. The organisation has created their very own change – VINNER VBosS – a plug and play USB machine, programmed to allow the left click on of a mouse. That is aimed to assist folks with restricted motor abilities who’ve an issue with accessing a keyboard or a mouse, and may be hooked up to a pc, pill or any good machine. 

For youngsters, apps comparable to Avaz, and Learn Please Plus which facilitate communication by means of Textual content-to-Speech, are launched by way of laptops or bigger good gadgets in colleges, As they get older, good telephones come into the image.

At colleges that solely cater to kids with particular wants, there isn’t any dearth of expertise like this. An early innovation within the discipline of assistive expertise and one thing that continues to be of utmost significance – display readers, in addition to audio recordings, tactile photos and extra are favoured by college students on the Nethrodaya Free Residential Increased Secondary College for college kids who’re visually impaired. 

The college’s founder C. Govindakrishnan says, there’s a entire dimension to assistive expertise for the visually-impaired which is commonly ignored. “There’s a sure ‘’conventional’ tag given to individuals who’re visually impaired and we’re anticipated to nonetheless solely keep on with utilizing Braille. When the world has moved on by leaps and bounds technologically, it is just honest that we be given an opportunity to discover the identical by means of assistive expertise obtainable for us,” he says. 

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College students on the faculty are launched to computer systems from major faculty alongside Braille, and turn into acquainted as they get older with display reader apps. “In the previous couple of years, I’ve seen college students favor audio recordings of lectures and even their books, that are learn out and recorded by volunteers to utilizing a display reader. The Tamil Nadu Authorities’s video classes primarily based on their textbooks which can be found on-line too are immensely useful,” Mr. Govindakrishnan explains.

The reality is, college students have been embracing expertise quicker than ever, particularly after the pandemic the place there was an upswing in the usage of digital gadgets owing to the closure of colleges.

“Whereas we insist on utilizing computer systems or laptops over smartphones for younger college students, as they get older, smartphones come to be extraordinarily helpful to entry tech like this,” he provides. A employees member at his faculty says that for college kids, there isn’t any dearth of selections relating to display reader apps. “There are over 100 apps that college students can use- the most well-liked ones amongst these being JAWS (Job Entry with Speech), and NVDA (Non Visible Desktop Entry).”


Improvements is perhaps aplenty, however simple are these to entry, particularly in mainstream colleges?

With ‘Mouseware’, Pravin Kumar, CEO, Dextroware, a start-up in IIT Madras underscores how essential it’s for each the mum or dad and faculty group to concentrate on such assistive gadgets and guarantee kids have entry to them. A head-wearable machine, Mouseware has a small sensor field which is mounted on the top of the consumer who will then be capable to management a pc or smartphone with head actions. The clicks may be performed by means of a foot-operated change, or different switches which may be customise ddepending on the consumer’s bodily capacity.  

“The presence of a tool like this within the laptop lab of a mainstream faculty as an example, shall be of nice assist to college students with disabilities finding out there. We have to transcend ramps and make studying areas accessible for all kids,” he provides.

Whereas there may be immense give attention to studying and communication for kids with bodily and mental disabilities, assistive expertise that facilitates leisure is equally, if no more essential, consultants say. 

Assistive expertise for leisure

For neurodivergent kids and younger adults who’re proof against exit to public areas which embrace parks, film theatres or the seashore, VR and AR gadgets are proving to be extraordinarily helpful. They’re inspired to expertise stimulations of those areas a number of occasions, until they’re comfy with the concept of visiting the precise area. 

“Digital and Augmented Actuality helps us handle a number of sensory challenges that kids would possibly face. What we understand as extraordinarily regular and typical, would possibly hassle them and on this state of affairs, these simulations come in useful,” stated Durga Priya, Head of Remedy, Mirra Charitable Belief.

From utilizing an XBox 360 which has video games that kids with restricted motion can take part in and luxuriate in, to utilizing songs and video games particularly designed for kids in her periods, Ms. Durga stated that kids take to the visible ingredient that these applied sciences have which makes it simple for them to observe and perceive. Working with neurodiverse people, Ms Durga stated that there are a number of assistive applied sciences that assist handle completely different areas- bodily remedy, motion, social navigation and far more. 

“For youngsters who’ve motion challenges or the weak spot of 1 limb, we use Sensible glove — a wearable machine which helps them function a digital keyboard. Physique vests come in useful for kids who’ve gravitational insecurity,” she says.

Challenges, and the best way ahead

As is the case with any new expertise, hesitation, and even resistance to a sure extent isn’t distant relating to assistive expertise as properly. This particularly, for expertise or gadgets that concentrate on studying and communication.

“Whereas some mother and father are immediately enthusiastic, there’s a part that desires to keep away from devices or apps for communication and are hesitant to introduce it to their kids within the worry that they is perhaps glued to it. Dad and mom imagine that this would possibly cut back social interplay even additional,” stated Radha Nandhakumar, founder and managing trustee, Gurukulam, an built-in centre for kids with particular wants.

Whereas she says that assistive expertise functions like Avaz can facilitate communication, she stresses on the necessity for successfully utilizing them and the significance of extra consciousness on this regard. “Any assistive expertise for communication particularly, needs to be used judiciously and solely to facilitate, not exchange the pure improvement course of,” Ms. Radha provides.

A Senior Occupational Therapist, and President, Tamil Nadu Occupational Therapists Affiliation, V. Vanchinathan highlights one other essential facet of assistive gadgets and technology- customisation. “Any adaptive machine has to first be customised in line with the wants of the person. Each particular person’s bodily and psychological talents shall be different- and a one-size suits all strategy can’t be taken with regard to any machine or expertise for a spread of disabilities,” he says.

He additional stresses on the significance of going by an analysis and proposals of an occupational therapist. “They play an important position within the analysis of the person and the atmosphere they’re in. People ought to examine with licensed occupational therapists, who will be capable to information them on find out how to customise assistive gadgets or expertise to their necessities with regard to the design and supplies used,” he added. 

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