Assistive technologies are products designed to accommodate people with physical or cognitive problems or disabilities. They strive to improve quality of life with assistive technologies. They range from low-tech solutions to physical piece of equipment and technical devices.
There are four areas of assistive technologies that include:
- Visual impairment
- Hearing impairment
- Physical limitations
- And cognitive limitations.
The U.S. Assistive Technologies Act of 1998 defines assistive technologies, also called adaptive technologies, as any "product, device, or equipment purchased commercially, modified, or custom-made that is used to maintain, increase, or improve the functionality of people with disabilities."
Assistive technologies have many advantages. They allow people to take care of themselves, work, study, easily access information, increase independence and communication and fully participate in public life.
Assistive device technologies may include:
- Hearing aids
- Screen magnifiers
- Large keyboard keys
- Alternative input devices such as touch displays, large trackballs on computer mice, and speech recognition.
In this article we will discover how these innovative tools transform lives and foster inclusive healthcare environments.
Assistive Technologies: Devices and Use
Assistive technological devices give people with disabilities the opportunity to interact with the outside world. These devices function as human eyes, ears, or voices. Without them, many people will not be able to work, lead an independent life or communicate with others.
There are assistive technological devices that help people with hearing loss.
For example, hearing aids can help people with hearing impairments, but for people with a higher degree of deafness, cochlear implants can restore some degree of amplification. These implanted devices bypass some hearing anatomical structures and create electronic hearing.
Speech-generating devices help people with communication difficulties interact with others easier. These means of communication allow the user to enter a word or phrase electronically.
Technology providers are looking for ways artificial intelligence technologies can help more people with disabilities. In 2018, Microsoft launched the AI for Accessibility program to provide developers with artificial intelligence tools. This is to accelerate the creation of artificial intelligence devices that help people with disabilities.
Let’s take a closer look at the devices and software that can provide care services.
#1. Mobility aids
Devices such as wheelchairs, walkers, and mobility scooters that help individuals with limited mobility move around and maintain independence.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 65 million people worldwide require wheelchairs for mobility. Approximately 10% of people with disabilities globally use wheelchairs or other mobility aids.
Walkers and canes are commonly used mobility aids for balance or stability issues. They are widely used across countries and regions, but are widely employed to improve mobility and prevent falls.
Motorized mobility scooters provide enhanced mobility for individuals who struggle walking long distances. In the United States, for example, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, around 2.7 million people used mobility scooters in 2015.
#2. Communication aids
Communication aids play a crucial role in supporting individuals with communication difficulties in social care settings in the UK. Here are some key aspects of communication aids in adult social care.
Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices are commonly used communication aids that help individuals with speech impairments or limited verbal abilities express themselves. These devices can range from low-tech options like communication boards or books with symbols to high-tech devices such as speech-generating devices or tablets with specialized software.
Symbol-based systems, such as the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) or Makaton, are widely used in social care to support communication. These systems utilize symbols, pictures, or gestures to facilitate understanding and expression for individuals with communication challenges.
With technology advancements, communication apps and software have become increasingly popular in social care. These applications can be installed on smartphones, tablets, or specialized devices and offer features like text-to-speech, customizable symbol libraries, or predictive text to aid communication.
Also, communication aids involve collaboration among various professionals, including speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, social workers, and assistive technology specialists. They work together to assess individuals' communication needs. They provide training and support for using communication aids effectively, and ensure appropriate customization and maintenance of the aids.
Communication aids are tailored to meet the specific needs and preferences of social care individuals. The focus is on adopting a person-centred approach, taking into account their communication goals, abilities, and interests to select the most suitable communication aids.
#3. Hearing aids and cochlear implants
These devices improve hearing and assist individuals with hearing impairments in better understanding speech and sounds.
Hearing aids are worn in or behind the ear. They amplify sounds and make them clearer for hearing loss patients. Hearing aids can help with a range of hearing impairments, from mild to severe. They are available in various styles and technologies to suit individual needs.
Cochlear implants, on the other hand, are surgically implanted devices that bypass the damaged parts of the inner ear and directly stimulate the auditory nerve. They are typically used by older people with severe to profound hearing loss who do not benefit sufficiently from hearing aids.
The process of obtaining hearing aids or cochlear implants involves a comprehensive assessment by an audiologist or ENT specialist. They conduct tests to determine hearing loss extent and recommend the best device. Following fitting, adjustments and fine-tuning are made to optimize the device's performance and comfort.
#4. Visual aids
Other examples of assistive technology in health and social care are devices like magnifiers, screen readers, and braille displays. They support visual impairments in reading, writing, and accessing information.
Magnifiers are optical devices that enlarge text, images, or objects, making them easier to see for low vision individuals. They come in various forms, including handheld, standing, and electronic magnifiers.
Screen readers convert on-screen text into synthesized speech or braille output. They enable individuals with visual impairments to access digital content, including websites, documents, and emails, by reading aloud the text displayed on the screen.
Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology converts printed text into digital text, which can be read aloud by screen readers or displayed on braille devices. These support services or apps enable visual impairments to access printed materials, such as books, documents, or labels.
Voice-activated assistants, such as smart speakers or virtual assistants, provide hands-free access to information, services, and control over smart home devices. Electronic travel aids, like white canes with integrated sensors or GPS-based navigation systems, make it easier for individuals to travel independently and safely. These aids help detect obstacles, provide directional cues, or offer audible instructions for navigation.
#5. Daily living aids
Daily living aids are devices and tools that assist individuals with disabilities or physical limitations in performing everyday life activities in their own home. Here are some key examples of daily living aids.
#6. Cognitive aids
Cognitive aids are tools and strategies that support individuals with cognitive impairments, learning disability and autism. These aids aim to enhance memory, organization, problem-solving, and overall cognitive functioning.
Memory aids include notebooks, calendars, or digital reminders to help individuals remember appointments, tasks, or critical information. They can also involve advanced devices like smartwatches or mobile phones apps with customizable reminder features.
Personal digital assistants (PDAs) or smartphones with note-taking apps can help organize schedules, to-do lists, and contact information.
Visual timers and alarms provide visual cues or countdowns to help individuals manage time, stay on track with tasks, and improve time management skills.
Cognitive apps and software programs offer brain training games, puzzles, or applications designed for memory enhancement, attention improvement, or problem-solving skills.
Memory books, photo albums, or audio recordings help individuals recall and reconnect with memories, benefiting those with cognitive impairments, including dementia.
#7. Prosthetics and orthotics
Prosthetics and orthotics play a vital role in improving mobility, function, and quality of life for individuals with limb loss or musculoskeletal conditions in the UK. Here are some key aspects of prosthetics and orthotics.
Prosthetics are custom-made devices that replace missing limbs or body parts. They can include:
- Upper limb prosthetics
- Lower limb prosthetics
Orthotics are devices that provide support, alignment, and corrective measures for individuals with musculoskeletal conditions.
- Foot orthotics
- Ankle-foot orthotics (AFOs)
- Knee orthotics
- Spinal orthotics
Prosthetics and orthotics services in the UK are typically provided by multidisciplinary teams, including prosthetists, orthotists, physiotherapists, and other healthcare professionals. These services involve comprehensive assessments, customized fittings, and ongoing support to ensure optimal function, comfort, and satisfaction with the devices.
Access to prosthetics and orthotics services in the UK is often facilitated through the National Health Service (NHS), where individuals may be referred by healthcare providers for assessment and provision of appropriate devices. Private clinics and charitable organizations also contribute to prosthetic and orthotic services in the UK.
Telecare is a form of assistive technology that utilizes communication and monitoring systems to support individuals in maintaining their independence and safety, particularly in the context of health and social care. Here are some key aspects related to it.
Telecare systems enable remote monitoring of individuals' health and safety through various sensors and devices. These can include wearable devices, motion sensors, fall detectors, bed occupancy sensors, and medication reminders. The data collected by these devices is transmitted to a monitoring center or carers who can assess the individual's well-being and respond accordingly.
These systems often incorporate emergency response features. In case of an emergency, such as a fall or a medical event, individuals can trigger an alarm through a pendant, wristband, or wall-mounted button. The personal alarm system alerts a response center, where trained operators can assess the situation and take appropriate action, such as contacting emergency services or notifying designated contacts.
Safety and security
Telecare systems enhance safety and security by providing features like door/window sensors, smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and flood sensors. These sensors can alert individuals or their caregivers to potential hazards, enabling quick response and preventive measures.
Telemedicine systems facilitate remote communication between individuals and their caregivers, family members, or healthcare professionals. This can be through voice calls, video calls, or messaging platforms. Such communication helps individuals stay connected, receive support, and address any concerns or emergencies.
Peace of mind for caregivers
It also provides reassurance and peace of mind for caregivers, knowing that their loved ones are being monitored and can access help when needed. The systems can alleviate caregiver stress and enable them to provide remote support while respecting the individual's independence.
Practice Management Software and Assistive Technology
Practice management software streamlines and automates various administrative tasks and processes in healthcare practices. While not considered assistive technology, PMS can indirectly support people with disabilities and contribute to inclusive healthcare environments.
PMS typically includes features for scheduling and managing appointments. These features can benefit individuals with disabilities by providing online appointment booking options, reminder notifications via text or email, and the ability to reschedule or cancel appointments conveniently.
Provide customers with the opportunity to communicate with you via the maximum number of channels. At Medesk, setting up an online appointment link in social networks or advertising will take only 15 minutes!Learn more >>
Electronic Health Records (EHR)
PMS includes integrated EHR functionality, allowing healthcare providers to store, manage, and access patient medical records electronically. EHR enhance accessibility for individuals with disabilities by providing alternative means of accessing information, such as screen reader compatibility or text-to-speech functionality.
At Medesk, information about each patient is stored in an individual electronic medical record. It allows you to view all the services rendered to him during the treatment at the clinic. The attending physician can get acquainted with the patient's medical history, view all the appointments and reports that were written by other doctors, as well as compare the results of current and previous analyses of the patient.Open the description >>
Communication and collaboration
Software incorporates communication tools, such as secure messaging or video conferencing capabilities. These features can facilitate remote communication between healthcare providers and patients.
Patient portal accessibility
Many practice management software platforms offer patient portals, enabling patients to access their health information, communicate with healthcare providers, and perform administrative tasks online.
Practice management software may include electronic prescribing features, allowing healthcare providers to send prescriptions directly to pharmacies electronically. This feature reduces physical interaction and enables easier prescription medication management.
Billing and insurance management
PMS streamlines billing and insurance processes, automating claims submission and payment tracking. These features benefits individuals with disabilities by simplifying financial transactions, providing online payment options, and reducing physical paperwork.
While practice management software primarily focuses on administrative functions, its accessibility features and digital capabilities contribute to a more inclusive healthcare experience for individuals with disabilities. These software solutions can enhance convenience, communication, and access to care, promoting equitable healthcare services.