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Be it ending up his homework for the day, or accessing the pc lab within the college he attends, a easy, but well-thought-out system is what 14-year-old Madhav*, a pupil with muscular dystrophy makes use of. Since he can not transfer his arms, Madhav accesses computer systems and different good gadgets hands-free with the assistance of ‘Mousewear’ strapped on his head. 

From electrical wheelchairs and listening to aids to gadgets like ‘Mousewear’, there was regular innovation, and an evolution of assistive applied sciences, to assist youngsters with a variety of disabilities specializing in studying, communication, mobility, and most importantly- leisure.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines “Assistive Technology” as an umbrella time period overlaying methods and companies associated to the supply of assistive merchandise and companies aimed toward sustaining or enhancing a person’s functioning or independence. 

According to estimates by WHO, 2.5 billion folks world over want a number of assistive gadgets. These numbers are anticipated to extend past 3.5 billion by 2050 given a worldwide ageing inhabitants and an increase in non-communicable ailments.

Having extensively labored with young-adults who’re on the autism spectrum, Kavitha Krishnamurthy, Co-Founder of CanBridge Academy, says expertise powered assistive gadgets which assist with communication have been a ‘sport changer’. 

Game changer for communication

“For youngsters and young-adults with autism who’re non-vocal, and even those that have restricted language expertise, an app like Avaz AAC is enormously supportive. Children are in a position to talk higher with this, and we in flip, get some perception into how a lot they know and have learnt,” she mentioned. 

An image and text-based AAC app that empowers youngsters and adults with complicated communication wants to specific themselves and study, Avaz was created by Invention Labs, a start-up from IIT Madras. During the pandemic when using digital gadgets elevated, mother and father whose youngsters and young-adults examine at CanBridge went by means of intensive periods with Akila Vaidyanathan, founder and Director, Amaze Charitable Trust, Coimbatore, on how they will facilitate using Avaz higher. 

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“Compared to 10 years in the past, we’re in a position to take action rather more now owing to the expertise out there. The focus is on making studying, communication, and leisure for kids with disabilities straightforward and intuitive — one thing expertise has performed an enormous half in,” Ms. Kavitha provides. 

When it involves communication particularly, there’s a variety of emphasis on independence and what assistive expertise can do for a similar. Recently, as part of the Global Accessibility Awareness Day, Alexa, an A.I. service developed by Amazon and Avaz, got here collectively to focus on how youngsters on the autism spectrum can use their tech. 

A non-verbal little one on the autism spectrum, Rudransh, a six-year-old boy communicates to his household by means of non-verbal gestures and prompts them to make use of the Alexa Device to play a tune. Once he began utilizing Avaz, his mother and father used the app to audio report and pre-program Alexa instructions to play his favorite songs- enabling him to independently entry the system. 

Assistive expertise: homegrown and extra

A go to to Chennai’s very personal Museum of Possibilities is a clearly reveals how far assistive expertise has come over time, and the sheer variety of gadgets out there available in the market — particularly these which might be homegrown. 

Vidyasagar, an organisation working with and for individuals with disabilities, which collaborated with the Tamil Nadu Government towards organising the museum, has for lengthy been a pioneer in the case of assistive technology- particularly of their work with youngsters who’ve a variety of disabilities. 

“As a mum or dad or as knowledgeable, we work with the goal of creating youngsters and younger adults as impartial as doable. We are in an period with immense entry to assistive technology- and at Vidyasagar, we carry this in as early as doable. With the assistance of a battery or perhaps a small swap, the toys that youngsters start to play with could be made accessible, and we then work on serving to them use expertise to entry rhymes and songs on-line,” mentioned Kalpana Rao, principal, Day Care Centre, Vidyasagar. 

In their work over time, Vidyasagar hasn’t stopped at merely making certain the provision of accessible and inexpensive applied sciences and gadgets for kids. The organisation has created their very own swap – VINNER VBosS – a plug and play USB system, programmed to allow the left click on of a mouse. This is aimed to assist folks with restricted motor expertise who’ve an issue with accessing a keyboard or a mouse, and could be connected to a pc, pill or any good system. 

For youngsters, apps similar to Avaz, and Read Please Plus which facilitate communication by means of Text-to-Speech, are launched through laptops or bigger good gadgets in colleges, As they get older, good telephones come into the image.

At colleges that solely cater to youngsters with particular wants, there isn’t any dearth of expertise like this. An early innovation within the area of assistive expertise and one thing that continues to be of utmost significance – display readers, in addition to audio recordings, tactile photos and extra are favoured by college students on the Nethrodaya Free Residential Higher Secondary School for college kids who’re visually impaired. 

The college’s founder C. Govindakrishnan says, there’s a complete dimension to assistive expertise for the visually-impaired which is commonly ignored. “There is a sure ‘’conventional’ tag given to individuals who’re visually impaired and we’re anticipated to nonetheless solely follow utilizing Braille. When the world has moved on by leaps and bounds technologically, it is just honest that we be given an opportunity to discover the identical by means of assistive expertise out there for us,” he says. 

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Students on the college are launched to computer systems from major college alongside Braille, and change into acquainted as they get older with display reader apps. “In the previous couple of years, I’ve seen college students favor audio recordings of lectures and even their books, that are learn out and recorded by volunteers to utilizing a display reader. The Tamil Nadu Government’s video classes based mostly on their textbooks which can be found on-line too are immensely useful,” Mr. Govindakrishnan explains.

The reality is, college students have been embracing expertise quicker than ever, particularly after the pandemic the place there was an upswing in using digital gadgets owing to the closure of faculties.

“While we insist on utilizing computer systems or laptops over smartphones for younger college students, as they get older, smartphones come to be extraordinarily helpful to entry tech like this,” he provides. A workers member at his college says that for college kids, there isn’t any dearth of selections in the case of display reader apps. “There are over 100 apps that college students can use- the most well-liked ones amongst these being JAWS (Job Access with Speech), and NVDA (Non Visual Desktop Access).”


Innovations could be aplenty, however straightforward are these to entry, particularly in mainstream colleges?

With ‘Mouseware’, Pravin Kumar, CEO, Dextroware, a start-up in IIT Madras underscores how necessary it’s for each the mum or dad and college neighborhood to pay attention to such assistive gadgets and guarantee youngsters have entry to them. A head-wearable system, Mouseware has a small sensor field which is mounted on the pinnacle of the person who will then be capable of management a pc or smartphone with head actions. The clicks could be executed by means of a foot-operated swap, or different switches which could be customise ddepending on the person’s bodily skill.  

“The presence of a tool like this within the laptop lab of a mainstream college as an example, can be of nice assist to college students with disabilities finding out there. We must transcend ramps and make studying areas accessible for all youngsters,” he provides.

While there’s immense give attention to studying and communication for kids with bodily and mental disabilities, assistive expertise that facilitates leisure is equally, if no more necessary, consultants say. 

Assistive expertise for leisure

For neurodivergent youngsters and younger adults who’re immune to exit to public areas which embrace parks, film theatres or the seashore, VR and AR gadgets are proving to be extraordinarily helpful. They are inspired to expertise stimulations of those areas a number of instances, until they’re comfy with the concept of visiting the precise area. 

“Virtual and Augmented Reality helps us deal with a number of sensory challenges that youngsters may face. What we understand as extraordinarily regular and typical, may trouble them and on this scenario, these simulations come in useful,” mentioned Durga Priya, Head of Therapy, Mirra Charitable Trust.

From utilizing an XBox 360 which has video games that youngsters with restricted motion can take part in and get pleasure from, to utilizing songs and video games particularly designed for kids in her periods, Ms. Durga mentioned that youngsters take to the visible ingredient that these applied sciences have which makes it straightforward for them to observe and perceive. Working with neurodiverse people, Ms Durga mentioned that there are a selection of assistive applied sciences that assist deal with completely different areas- bodily remedy, motion, social navigation and rather more. 

“For youngsters who’ve motion challenges or the weak point of 1 limb, we use Smart glove — a wearable system which helps them function a digital keyboard. Body vests come in useful for kids who’ve gravitational insecurity,” she says.

Challenges, and the best way ahead

As is the case with any new expertise, hesitation, and even resistance to a sure extent isn’t distant in the case of assistive expertise as nicely. This particularly, for expertise or gadgets that target studying and communication.

“While some mother and father are immediately enthusiastic, there’s a part that wishes to keep away from devices or apps for communication and are hesitant to introduce it to their youngsters within the worry that they could be glued to it. Parents imagine that this may cut back social interplay even additional,” mentioned Radha Nandhakumar, founder and managing trustee, Gurukulam, an built-in centre for kids with particular wants.

While she says that assistive expertise purposes like Avaz can facilitate communication, she stresses on the necessity for successfully utilizing them and the significance of extra consciousness on this regard. “Any assistive expertise for communication particularly, needs to be used judiciously and solely to facilitate, not exchange the pure growth course of,” Ms. Radha provides.

A Senior Occupational Therapist, and President, Tamil Nadu Occupational Therapists Association, V. Vanchinathan highlights one other necessary facet of assistive gadgets and technology- customisation. “Any adaptive system has to first be customised in keeping with the wants of the person. Every particular person’s bodily and psychological talents can be different- and a one-size suits all strategy can’t be taken with regard to any system or expertise for a variety of disabilities,” he says.

He additional stresses on the significance of going by an analysis and suggestions of an occupational therapist. “They play an important function within the analysis of the person and the surroundings they’re in. Individuals ought to verify with licensed occupational therapists, who will be capable of information them on how one can customise assistive gadgets or expertise to their necessities with regard to the design and supplies used,” he added. 

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