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Technological innovations for people with disabilities

Gadgets for the disabled and elderly

Get acquainted with a selection of news about technological innovations that help disabled and elderly people with age-related visual and hearing impairment to comfortably use modern gadgets.


A portable sign language translator has been created


In the United States, hundreds of thousands of people with hearing and speech impairments rely on American sign language (ASL) to communicate with others. But what should such a person do if he finds himself among those who do not understand this language?

Mi Zhang, an assistant Professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Michigan, found an opportunity to help hearing-impaired people overcome this communication barrier.

The scientist created a portable Deep ASL translator from sign language to English, developed special algorithms for the device based on Leap Motion technology. The gadget is equipped with a three-inch screen, sensors, and video cameras that record the movements of hands and fingers. The translator deciphers gestures and displays words and phrases on the display.

One of the distinctive features of DeepASL is that it is able to translate complete sentences, explains Mi Zhang. Existing electronic sign translators require users to pause between signs. This restriction significantly slows down personal conversations, making communication difficult and awkward.

In addition, DeepASL can also serve those who study ASL, since it also provides feedback: when entering text, the screen displays graphic symbols of the corresponding gestures.

According to statistics, about 90% of deaf children are born in families that do not have hearing problems. Parents learn sign language to communicate with their children, but often don't have time to attend live classes, Zhang says. Our technologies will help them constantly learn and improve.

The device is already available to anyone who needs ASL gesture translation and is priced at 80$. The researchers also plan to make this technology compatible with the iPhone.


Mobile phones are still not suitable for people with special needs


Published a report by a group of scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology, USA, who decided to find out how convenient mobile phones are for people with disabilities.

The researchers compared current phone models that can receive emergency notifications with the 2015 versions of the devices.

It turned out that developers of high-price phones have improved access to 10 of the 13 main functions.

However, the devices offered under the Lifeline program, which are intended for low-income people and are subsidized from the Federal state budget, did not meet the requirements in almost all categories compared to phones offered under traditional wireless data plans.

The results are worrisome, said Salima Lafors, lead analyst at the center for research in rehabilitation engineering for wireless exclusive technologies (Wireless RERC) at Georgia tech.

People with disabilities, with rare exceptions, have a lower income and can make up a significant percentage of Lifeline users, Lafors says. A person who does not have a disability can take it for granted that they can easily find a phone model that has the functions they need in the wireless salon. However, this confidence is not always justified.

For example, 84% of mid-to high-end phone models include built-in text-to-speech devices. But only 26% of phones available under the Federal Lifeline program have this feature, which is extremely important for people with visual impairments.

In addition, the study found that only 17% of verified Lifeline subscribers have access to potentially life-saving alerts from the US national weather service. These statistics are particularly worrisome because some populations most vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters are not able to receive critical messages in a timely manner.


Among other findings, the report includes the following:

• almost 6 out of 10 phones (about 58%) do not have the video call functions that people who communicate using sign language need;

• the vast majority of mobile gadgets are not compatible with hearing AIDS.


To conduct the study was used the phones of the four leading wireless carriers in the US and five randomly selected operators "line of life". The report does not include estimates of individual device models or operating systems.

The organization Wireless RERC, whose main task is to use wireless technologies that help people with disabilities live comfortably, sent the results of the study to the US Federal communications Commission, and called on officials to pay attention to the compliance of Lifeline providers with the Federal law "On the availability of communications and video" from 2010.


Fantasy: you can move the cursor with your mind


Without tablets and other computer devices, everyday life would seem impossible. But the use of gadgets is difficult or even inaccessible for paralyzed people.


«Brain–computer» interface


Brown University (Rhode Island, USA) is one of the world's leading centers for the development of wireless medical neurotechnologies and innovations in the field of neuroengineering. As part of the Brain Gate program, he developed a unique «brain-computer» interface (BCI) that helps restore virtual communications for disabled people.

Recently, a University team of scientists reported the results of an encouraging groundbreaking study. The experiment involved three people affected by tetraplegia – they lost the ability to move as a result of injuries. Each participant's motor cortex was implanted with tiny microelectrodes that pick up neural signals. The computer program was able to correctly recognize and decode the impulses associated with the intention to make a particular movement, and send mental orders to control external electronic devices.


Full users of network resources


The researchers asked participants to complete a set of tasks to determine how well they would be able to navigate from app to app on a computer. Without touching the keyboard, people were able to "wander" on the Internet, turn on Bluetooth, watch YouTube videos, listen to the news, read the weather forecast, open their email account and exchange messages with their relatives. Texts were typed at a speed of 30 characters per minute. One of the participants ordered a tablet from the Amazon online store, and a paralyzed musician played Beethoven's "Ode to joy" on a virtual piano.

In this study, we used Brain Gate's know-how to restore people's ability to control the same everyday technologies they used before they got sick, commented lead bioengineer Paul Nyujukian. But in the experiment, people moved the cursor around on a computer monitor just by thinking about the movement of their hand.

To hear music performed by the power of thought alone is fantastic! – shared his impressions of one of the researchers, Dr. Jamie Henderson.

And here is a comment from one of the participants: "The interface is intuitive and fun. It was even more natural than when I was using a mouse".

As part of this study, neural signals from Brain Gate BCI were sent to a Bluetooth interface that was configured to work with a wireless mouse. The virtual mouse was combined with an unmodified Google Nexus 9 tablet.

The doctors who participated in the study noted that the successful experiment opens up new ways of communication between patients with severe neurological disorders and medical staff.

There is a great potential for restoring reliable, fast and rich communication with patients who cannot speak, says Jose Albites Sanabria, a graduate student in the Department of biomedical engineering.

Now you can find out in detail the current problems of our wards. Doctors are getting closer to being able to tell a patient, "we continue to look for a drug that can get you back on your feet, but you will never lose the ability to communicate", says Dr. Lee Hochberg, a practicing neurologist and resuscitator at Providence medical center.