Mon. Jun 5th, 2023

Be it finishing up his homework for the day, or accessing the laptop lab in the college he attends, a basic, however effectively-believed-out device is what 14-year-old Madhav*, a student with muscular dystrophy makes use of. Considering that he can’t move his arms, Madhav accesses computer systems and other clever devices hands-cost-free 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 youngsters with a variety of disabilities focusing on studying, communication, mobility, and most importantly- leisure.

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

According to estimates by WHO, two.five billion men and women planet more than have to have a single or additional assistive devices. These numbers are anticipated to boost beyond three.five billion by 2050 offered a worldwide ageing population and a rise in non-communicable illnesses.

Obtaining 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 youngsters and young-adults with autism who are non-vocal, or even these who have restricted language expertise, an app like Avaz AAC is significantly supportive. Kids are capable to communicate improved 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 youngsters and adults with complicated communication desires to express themselves and find out, Avaz was made by Invention Labs, a start out-up from IIT Madras. Throughout the pandemic when the use of electronic devices enhanced, parents whose youngsters and young-adults study at CanBridge went by way of comprehensive sessions with Akila Vaidyanathan, founder and Director, Amaze Charitable Trust, Coimbatore, on how they can facilitate the use of Avaz improved. 

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“Compared to yen years ago, we are capable to do so a great deal additional now owing to the technologies accessible. The concentrate is on producing studying, communication, and leisure for youngsters with disabilities simple and intuitive — anything technologies has played a massive element 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 exact same. Recently, as a element of the Worldwide Accessibility Awareness Day, Alexa, an A.I. service created by Amazon and Avaz, came collectively to highlight how youngsters 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 loved ones by way of non-verbal gestures and prompts them to use the Alexa Device to play a song. When he began employing Avaz, his parents utilized the app to audio record and pre-plan Alexa commands to play his favourite songs- enabling him to independently access the device. 

Assistive technologies: homegrown and additional

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

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

“As a parent or as a skilled, we function with the aim of producing youngsters 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 modest switch, the toys that youngsters commence to play with can be produced 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 just making certain the availability of accessible and very affordable technologies and devices for youngsters. The organisation has made 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 trouble with accessing a keyboard or a mouse, and can be attached to a laptop, tablet or any clever device. 

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

At schools that exclusively cater to youngsters with unique desires, there is no dearth of technologies like this. An early innovation in the field of assistive technologies and anything that continues to be of utmost significance – screen readers, as effectively as audio recordings, tactile photographs and additional are favoured by students at the Nethrodaya Free of charge Residential Greater Secondary College for students who are visually impaired. 

The school’s founder C. Govindakrishnan says, there is a entire dimension to assistive technologies for the visually-impaired which is typically ignored. “There is a particular ‘’traditional’ tag offered to persons who are visually impaired and we are anticipated to nonetheless only stick to employing Braille. When the planet has moved on by leaps and bounds technologically, it is only fair that we be offered a opportunity to discover the exact same by way of assistive technologies accessible for us,” he says. 

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

The truth is, students have been embracing technologies more rapidly 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 employing computer systems or laptops more than smartphones for young students, as they develop older, smartphones come to be exceptionally beneficial to access tech like this,” he adds. A employees member at his college says that for students, there is no dearth of options when it comes to screen reader apps. “There are more than one hundred apps that students can use- the most preferred ones amongst these getting 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 start out-up in IIT Madras underscores how significant it is for each the parent and college neighborhood to be conscious of such assistive devices and make sure youngsters have access to them. A head-wearable device, Mouseware has a modest 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 accomplished by way of a foot-operated switch, or other switches which can be customise ddepending on the user’s physical capacity.  

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

Though there is immense concentrate on studying and communication for youngsters with physical and intellectual disabilities, assistive technologies that facilitates leisure is equally, if not additional significant, authorities say. 

Assistive technologies for leisure

For neurodivergent youngsters and young adults who are resistant to go out to public spaces which contain parks, film theatres or the beach, VR and AR devices are proving to be exceptionally beneficial. They are encouraged to knowledge stimulations of these spaces various occasions, till they are comfy with the thought of going to the actual space. 

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

From employing an XBox 360 which has games that youngsters with restricted movement can participate in and take pleasure in, to employing songs and games especially developed for youngsters in her sessions, Ms. Durga mentioned that youngsters 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 men and women, Ms Durga mentioned that there are a variety of assistive technologies that enable address diverse places- physical therapy, movement, social navigation and a great deal additional. 

“For youngsters who have movement challenges or the weakness of a single limb, we use Smart glove — a wearable device which assists them operate a virtual keyboard. Physique vests come in handy for youngsters 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 effectively. This particularly, for technologies or devices that concentrate on studying and communication.

“While some parents are instantaneously enthusiastic, there is a section that desires to prevent gadgets or apps for communication and are hesitant to introduce it to their youngsters in the worry that they could be glued to it. Parents think that this could decrease social interaction even additional,” mentioned Radha Nandhakumar, founder and managing trustee, Gurukulam, an integrated centre for youngsters with unique desires.

Though she says that assistive technologies applications like Avaz can facilitate communication, she stresses on the have to have for properly employing them and the significance of additional awareness in this regard. “Any assistive technologies for communication in specific, need to be utilized judiciously and only to facilitate, not replace the organic improvement procedure,” Ms. Radha adds.

A Senior Occupational Therapist, and President, Tamil Nadu Occupational Therapists Association, V. Vanchinathan highlights one more significant aspect of assistive devices and technologies- customisation. “Any adaptive device has to initially be customised according to the desires of the person. Just about every individual’s physical and mental skills will be diverse- and a a single-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 important part in the evaluation of the person and the atmosphere they are in. Men and women 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 utilized,” he added. 

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