BIOTECH: How Technology is Helping Specially-Abled People

Dr S.S. Verma is a professor at Department of Physics, Sant Longowal Institute of Engineering and Technology, Sangrur, Punjab

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Smart glasses.

Oxford University researchers are developing a pair of glasses that gives people with limited vision an aid that boosts their awareness of what’s around them. With extra information on who or what’s around them, they can walk around unfamiliar places confidently and with greater freedom. The gadget consists of two small cameras, a gyroscope, a compass, a GPS unit, a headphone and transparent OLED displays. Using it, visually impaired people would be able to distinguish between light and dark. The glasses make anything a little brighter when it gets closer to the wearers, so they can discern people and obstacles.

Devices for people with hearing impairment

Cochlear implant.

This little device continues to evolve with advancements in software and hardware. The single-channel implant provided mostly static, while early commercial implants with five channels gave some indication of cadence and rhythm. Today’s cochlear implants, however, have more than twenty sound channels, allowing users to hear with much better clarity. The implant is still far from perfect, with background noise continually being a problem. However, the technology has advanced to such a point now that voices can be heard with enough clarity to be readily understood and identified, making verbal communication possible and productive.

UNI.

It is a two-way communication tool for hearing-impaired persons that relies upon gestures and speech technology. It works by detecting hand and finger gestures with its specialised camera algorithm, then converting these into text in a very short time to provide meaning to a given sign language. A voice recognition software converts speech into text for two-way communication. UNI also allows users to create their own sign language with its sign builder, so it is easy to add custom language to dictionaries. It is a subscription-based app with two versions, one requires a data connection while the other doesn’t.

Transcence.

Transcence is a mobile app that makes group conversations possible for hearing-impaired people. In a conversation, using the microphone of each participant’s smartphone, the app catches what the participant is saying, then converts it into text in real time. All speakers are assigned corresponding text bubbles, differentiated by colour, just like what we would find in a regular group messaging chat room.

Devices for people with speech impairment

DynaVox EyeMax.

This device gives paralysis, cerebral palsy and stroke victims the ability to participate in spoken communication using only their eyes. Using a sophisticated eye tracking system, users can interact with an on-screen keyboard to enter words and phrases. These words and phrases are then translated into spoken text using text-to-speech mechanism of the device. In addition to the on-screen keyboard, the language software on the device offers hundreds of pre-defined phrases and words, which can be selected from lists or chosen via pictures and scenes. This makes the device instantly accessible to young children and people with mental disabilities who may be unable to grasp written language.

Talkitt.

This application helps people with speech and language disorders to communicate with clarity. It translates unintelligible pronunciation into understandable speech, so the other person can understand what the user said. It works by learning the user’s speech patterns first, creating a personal speech dictionary. Then it identifies and recognises the unintelligible pronunciations, translating them into speech people can understand.

Talkitt for speech impaired (Image courtesy: cdn.nocamels.com)
Talkitt for speech impaired (Image courtesy: cdn.nocamels.com)

Technologies for others

Axs map.

Many public places are not equipped with facilities like wheelchair ramps and wheelchair-accessible restrooms. This causes inconvenience to those who need a wheelchair to move around. AXS Map is a crowd-sourced map that provides information about wheelchair-accessible ramps and restrooms in public places such as restaurants, hotels and shopping malls. Star ratings help users know how well-designed these facilities are.

Assist-Mi.

This app connects service providers and caregivers with specially abled users on the go. Users can get assistance in real time at the touch of a button. Services include help in getting to work, shopping and travelling. The Mi-Profile feature of the app lists users’ needs so service providers know what to do when assistance is requested. The app also supports two-way communication and GPS for better information on location.

Liftware.

It is a self-stabilising handle that can be attached to eating utensils like forks and spoons. It is very helpful for people with Parkinson’s disease or other forms of motion disorders that cause hand tremors. Liftware stabilises up to 70 per cent of the disruption and helps reduce the amount of spillage before food reaches the patient’s mouth. The Liftware system comes with a charger and three utensils, a spoon, a fork and a soup spoon in addition to the handle. Depending on how long the user’s meals last, Liftware lasts for three to six meals between charges. The handle can be wiped clean, while the spoons and fork can be washed like a normal utensil.

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