Be it ending up his homework for the day, or accessing the pc lab within the college 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’t 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 variety of disabilities specializing in studying, communication, mobility, and most importantly- leisure.

The World Well being Organisation (WHO) defines “Assistive Expertise” as an umbrella time period overlaying techniques and providers associated to the supply of assistive services geared toward sustaining or bettering a person’s functioning or independence. 

In keeping with estimates by WHO, 2.5 billion individuals 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. Kids are in a position to talk higher with this, and we in flip, get some perception into how a lot they know and have learnt,” she mentioned. 

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

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“In comparison with yen years in the past, we’re ready to take action way more now owing to the expertise out there. The main target is on making studying, communication, and leisure for youngsters with disabilities straightforward and intuitive — one thing expertise has performed an enormous half in,” Ms. Kavitha provides. 

In relation to communication particularly, there’s a number of emphasis on independence and what assistive expertise can do for a similar. Just lately, 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 youngster on the autism spectrum, Rudransh, a six-year-old boy communicates to his household by way of non-verbal gestures and prompts them to make use of the Alexa Gadget to play a track. 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 through the years, and the sheer variety of gadgets out there out there — particularly these which might be homegrown. 

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

“As a guardian or as knowledgeable, we work with the goal of constructing kids and younger adults as impartial as doable. We’re in an period with immense entry to assistive technology- and at Vidyasagar, we convey this in as early as doable. 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,” mentioned Kalpana Rao, principal, Day Care Centre, Vidyasagar. 

Of their work through the years, Vidyasagar hasn’t stopped at merely guaranteeing the supply of accessible and inexpensive applied sciences and gadgets for youngsters. 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 individuals 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 reminiscent of Avaz, and Learn Please Plus which facilitate communication by way of Textual content-to-Speech, are launched through laptops or bigger good gadgets in faculties, As they get older, good telephones come into the image.

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

The varsity’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 persist with utilizing Braille. When the world has moved on by leaps and bounds technologically, it’s only truthful that we be given an opportunity to discover the identical by way of assistive expertise out there for us,” he says. 

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College students on the college are launched to computer systems from main college alongside Braille, and change into acquainted as they get older with display screen reader apps. “In the previous couple of years, I’ve seen college students choose audio recordings of lectures and even their books, that are learn out and recorded by volunteers to utilizing a display screen reader. The Tamil Nadu Authorities’s video classes based mostly 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 sooner than ever, particularly after the pandemic the place there was an upswing in using digital gadgets owing to the closure of faculties.

“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 workers member at his college says that for college students, there isn’t any dearth of selections relating to display screen reader apps. “There are over 100 apps that college students can use- the preferred ones amongst these being JAWS (Job Entry with Speech), and NVDA (Non Visible Desktop Entry).”


Improvements may be aplenty, however straightforward are these to entry, particularly in mainstream faculties?

With ‘Mouseware’, Pravin Kumar, CEO, Dextroware, a start-up in IIT Madras underscores how necessary it’s for each the guardian and faculty group to pay attention to 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 person who will then be capable of management a pc or smartphone with head actions. The clicks may be finished by way of a foot-operated change, or different switches which may be customise ddepending on the person’s bodily capability.  

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

Whereas there may be immense deal with studying and communication for youngsters with bodily and mental disabilities, assistive expertise that facilitates leisure is equally, if no more necessary, specialists say. 

Assistive expertise for leisure

For neurodivergent kids and younger adults who’re immune to exit to public areas which embrace parks, film theatres or the seaside, 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 snug with the thought 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 scenario, these simulations come in useful,” mentioned 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 revel in, to utilizing songs and video games particularly designed for youngsters in her periods, Ms. Durga mentioned that kids take to the visible component that these applied sciences have which makes it straightforward for them to comply with and perceive. Working with neurodiverse people, Ms Durga mentioned that there are a number of assistive applied sciences that assist handle completely different areas- bodily remedy, motion, social navigation and way more. 

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

Challenges, and the way in which 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 concern that they may be glued to it. Dad and mom imagine that this would possibly cut back social interplay even additional,” mentioned Radha Nandhakumar, founder and managing trustee, Gurukulam, an built-in centre for youngsters 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, ought to be used judiciously and solely to facilitate, not change the pure growth course of,” Ms. Radha provides.

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

He additional stresses on the significance of going by an analysis and suggestions of an occupational therapist. “They play a significant function within the analysis of the person and the surroundings they’re in. People ought to test with licensed occupational therapists, who will be capable of information them on the best way to customise assistive gadgets or expertise to their necessities with regard to the design and supplies used,” he added. 

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