Assistive Devices for Disability: Past, Present, and Future

Published on: March 31, 2020

The 21st century has witnessed numerous technological progress in a variety of fields, including improvements to help people work with their disabilities. Assistive technology is one of those advancements for people with disabilities and has positively impacted thousands of lives. 

Assistive devices have come a long way since its origins in the 19th century. Read more to see how assistive technology devices have evolved over the last two hundred years and continue to see groundbreaking advancements in both assistive technology and their impact on people. 

Adaptive Devices Definition

Adaptive technology is any equipment, device, or software that enables people to learn, operate, and communicate better. It specifically refers to enhanced existing technologies that help people perform specific tasks. Some adaptive technology examples include:

  • Large print books
  • Keyboard modifications
  • Accessibility tools for OS, browsers, and software
  • Computers with visual and/or voice output
  • Electronic mail
  • Adjustable tables 
  • Word prediction software
  • Software with adjustable screen colors
  • Large monitors

Adaptive technology also includes assistive technology; assistive technology refers to any light, mid-or high-tech device that gives people with disabilities greater independence. Some types of assistive technology include: 

  • Wheelchairs
  • Wands and joysticks
  • Touch screens
  • Light signaler alerts
  • Text-to-speech synthesizers
  • Magnification applications
  • Braille embossers
  • Sip-and-puff systems

Adaptive and assistive devices have allowed people with a range of disabilities to live independent lives and overcome challenges. 

Timeline of Past Assistive Devices

The origins of assistive devices can perhaps be traced to the first wheelchair hundreds of years ago, though the creation of Braille in the 19th century is commonly referred to as the root of modern assistive technology devices.

1829 - Creation of Braille

Still used widely today, Braille is a tactile writing system used by the blind and visually impaired. It was officially published in 1929 after being developed by Frenchman Louis Braille. Braille had been blinded by an accident as a child. 

1876 - The First Hearing Aid

The first portable hearing aid is invented using Alexander Graham Bell’s technology.

1898 - First Electronic Hearing Aid

The first electronic hearing aids are created and are small enough to fit into a purse. They are named the Akouphone. 

1935 - Talking Books

The phonograph is used for talking books for both entertainment and education. 

1936 - First Electronic Speech Synthesizer

AT&T develops the first electronic speech synthesizer, calling it the Voder. It incorporates a keyboard and foot pedals to play the machine and release speech. 

1948 - First Transistor Hearing Aids

Advancements are made in miniaturizing hearing aids and making them easier to use. 

1951 - Perkins Brailler Typewriter

The Perkins Brailler typewriter is invented to allow people to type in Braille. Previously, writing Braille was a difficult process. 

1960’s - Sip and Puff Wheelchair

Developed by the University of Chicago, the Sip and Puff technology controls the device through air pressure, such as puffing through a straw. Sip and Puff systems are used today mainly for people who are quadriplegics. 

1976 - Kurzweil Reading Machine

The Kurzweil Reading Machine is the first computer program that recognized printed letters. That same year, the first handheld speech synthesizer was also developed. 

1977 - Adaptive Firmware Card (AFC)

This card allows people with disabilities to use an alternative keyboard on a computer and also requires only one switch. 

1983 - DynaVox is founded

The augmented communication company is founded; they eventually develop a device that enables people to communicate with only eye movements. 

1992 - Computer Operating Systems Include Speech Synthesizers

Computer text-to-speech programs are included to help people with disabilities access written materials. 

1996 - FM Amplification Hearing Aids

FM amplification technology benefits students with hearing impairments, as well as other students in the classroom.

2009 - SMART Tables.

The creators of SMART boards develop a SMART table that benefits students with motor challenges. 

2010 - Apple Products

Apple products, such as the iPhone, iPod, and iPad, have numerous apps that people and students with disabilities such as voice recording. 

Latest Advancements in Assistive Devices

There have been plenty of advancements in assistive technology devices since the creation of Braille in the 19th century. Now more than ever, there are assistive devices enabling people and students with disabilities to live independent lives and further their education and careers. 

Some of the latest types of assistive technology advancements include:

Smart Gloves

Created by the University of San Diego, Smart Gloves translate sign language signs to digital text that can appear on a computer screen or smartphone. The hand movements are recognized by electrical variances that the gloves recognize. 

DynaVox Eyemask System 

This system allows people with disabilities to communicate with only eye movements. Though this technology is not new, the latest advancements allow people with disabilities such as paralysis and cerebral palsy to interact with an on-screen keyboard. The user can enter words or phrases into the keyboard using their eyes, which translates the words into spoken text. 

Cochlear Implant

This hearing aid implant picks up more than just a sound aid; it picks up sound and transmits it to a computer, which translates the sound into a digital signal back to the hearing aid. The hearing aid stimulates the auditory nerve, allowing people with extremely limited hearing to have much better communication. 

DEKA Robotic Arm

Invented by Dean Karmon, the DEKA robotic arm was designed for injured soldiers who lost an arm in conflict. Weighing less than 8 pounds, the DEKA robotic appendage is so precise, it can easily peel an orange. It also has a sensory feedback system in the form of vibrations; the stronger the vibrations, the stronger the grip. This helps the user determine the strength of grip and measure of pressure being used. 

The Future of Assistive Devices

With more advancements in store, the more barriers will be removed for people with disabilities. Assistive devices can be a valuable asset for individuals with disabilities and their loved ones and the future holds exciting opportunities for more advancements. One future technology currently in the works is driverless cars. 

Car for the Blind 

Currently being developed by engineer Dennis Hong, a car designed for the blind will be able to monitor and observe its environment while providing sound and vibrations for the driver. These sensory inputs may include sound alerts, vibrating gloves, or seat vibrations to name a few. Such a car would allow a blind person to have complete independence and the ability to drive. 

Driverless Car

Google’s driverless cars are currently in the works, but they are being developed with people with disabilities in mind. People with physical and mental disabilities would be able to operate a driverless car and provide them with a safe and independent means of transportation. Google’s driverless cars would operate primarily with AI and Google street view. 

These adaptive technology examples of the present and future are just a few of the assistive devices open to people with disabilities. This technology is opening doors previously closed to people with disabilities and allowing them to have self-sufficient lives.

As one of Florida’s leading disability resources, we strive every day to help the disabled and their families sustain a healthy standard of living, whether it’s by offering the latest news through our blogs, or by providing information to help the disabled understand his/her options for benefits. 

If you have any additional questions on disability assistance through various state/federal programs or would like advice on how to apply for these disability resources and services, don’t hesitate to contact us today.

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