Assistive Technology is revolutionizing rehabilitation and the way services are provided in the areas of: computers, environmental controls, biotechnology, biomedicine, and robotics. Bill Gates revolutionized the assistive technology industry when he built his multi-million dollar home to include what are now known in the disability community as EADLs or Electronic Aids of Daily Living. These aids are allowing people to be more independent and live with less assistance thus lowering the cost and need of PCAs.
Robotics will play a definite role in changing the life of a disabled person:
• A robotic personal care attendant with the ability to perform basic cares such as feeding, cleaning, monitoring, and eventually having the capability to perform dressing and range of motion.
• Guide dogs become robotic.Currently guide dogs are retired every 7 years. The cost and training of new guide dogs is thousands of dollars. A robotic dog could work similar to a GPS system giving the blind individual instructions through movement and speech output. A person would type where they wanted to visit in a building or city which the robotic dog would decipher and lead them to the location.
• Robotics are incorporated into prosthesis’s with new engineering and material such as the Smart fluid weighing less than 10 pounds and providing smooth and natural movements. The prosthesis will have micro chips which react instantaneously similar to a normal muscle.
• Robotic body part replacements— there are thousands on donor transplant lists. People would welcome this opportunity and rejection of it may be less . . .
• Wheelchairs become more high tech allowing those with disabilities to reach areas never opened to them before. All terrains are accessible including sand, mountains, and stairs.
By 2015, the disability community will have a much easier time with communications because:
• Microsoft continues to incorporate advanced assistive technologies to their operating system. For instance it is forecasted that there will be an equivalent product in the next two years to the JAWS screen reading program. This will assist in reducing the cost of assistive technology and what it takes to accommodate a computer. JAWS is a program that is about $900. In the future, this particular feature may be built right into the operating system. Already, we are seeing software such as StickeyKeys for single key typing, a magnifier, a simple voice input system included in the Windows environment. A Macintosh has similar products available but the company is not as invested in developing built-in accommodations.
• The cost of adaptations continues to decline. We now see this very evident with the voice recognition product. If we look at 15 years ago, the program started at $10,000. Today a good voice recognition system such as Dragon Naturally Speaking is available for $167 and is sold in the common market. You can purchase it at a local computer store, a “Best Buy,” or on-line. It is no longer available only through vendors that deal with assistive technology.
• The programming and usage of the assistive technology products becomes more intuitive. You no longer need to be a programmer to understand the terminology, the steps, the branches and procedures necessary in changing something such as an On-screen keyboard. It becomes what is known as a GUI (a graphical user interface) which is already beginning to happen but will continue to happen.
• One important development for users of communication devices is the devices all become computerized. There are products available such as the Mercury with the Windows Operating system and communication software on a tablet computer. The trend will continue plus the voice output is becoming more human sounding.
• Many people continue to rely on verbalization even when their speech is impaired. Devices for speech clarification will become more useable and possibly allow those with indistinguishable speech to start relying on vocalization rather than communication devices. The individual will speak into a microphone where a computerized circuit will digitize the words to create an understandable version of what was spoken.
By the year 2015, the disabled individual’s world will look different as technology continues to inundate every aspect of their life.