With the rapid pace of technological change, it is an exciting time for assistive technology (AT)! Fresh from the RESNA (Rehab Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America) conference in Washington, D.C., I’ve pulled together a Top Ten Hot Topics in AT for your reading pleasure! Check out the embedded links to dig deeper and learn more!
In no particular order…
- Robotics: While we haven’t quite made it to the “Jetsons” future yet – we are getting closer – beginning with personal robots and the application of robotics to solve a variety of challenges people with disabilities face. From robots to help kids with autism to exoskeletons, smart cars, and intelligent powered wheelchairs, robots are making their mark on the Assistive Technology world!
- Internet of Things: Even if you’re not familiar with the term “Internet of Things”, chances are you have encountered internet enabled devices in your every-day life. Did you know we now have connected devices in the home ranging from the doorbell and door entry system, to light switches, to automated window blinds – even internet enabled slow cookers? While these products were not designed for individuals with disabilities, they have great potential to enhance independence – at a much lower cost than previous environmental control options. If you’re interested in learning more, Amazon has a great smart home section, where you can learn about all the products on the market!
- Mobile technologies: Mobile technologies (especially tablets and smart phones) have taken the world by storm. Can you believe that ten years ago, the smart phone wasn’t something any of us dreamed we would ever need? While we would all now suffer without them, they have even greater applications for individuals with disabilities. Options for alternative access to touchscreens have blossomed, and Apple is leading the way in integrating switch control into their devices! Individuals with low vision or blindness have also benefited substantially from the growth in these technologies. Check out this awesome video from Christopher Hills who uses his iPad to control his world (with one switch). For a more in-depth learning opportunity, check out my video on tablet access for wheelchair users or contact me!
- AT for Mental Health: While we have often focused on assistive technology in physical medicine, we are starting to see AT make a mark in mental health too! We’ve got everything from mobile apps to support Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to systems to track symptoms, promote healthy habits, remediate sleep, and provide medication reminders. Stay tuned for more in this field, because it’s only just beginning!
- E-Health and m-Health: Do you work with clients in rural or remote areas? Perhaps those who have difficulty getting out of the house or getting around the community? E-Health and m-health applications are starting to make their mark on the rehabilitation world providing opportunities for engagement from afar in both physical and mental health, client monitoring, and even provision of training in tasks as complex as wheelchair skills! Check out this video about the EPIC wheels program, a novel approach to teach Wheelchair Skills via an m-health application!
- Virtual and augmented reality: Although we are still relatively early days in virtual and augmented reality, there are countless potential applications in rehabilitation and for use by persons with disabilities. There are numerous researchers across Canada working on virtual reality for powered mobility training (among other things) and there have even been recent reports of the benefits of Pokemon Go (one of the first applications of augmented reality) for kids on the Autism Spectrum! For an example of an augmented reality iPad game that promotes visual motor and fine motor skills, check out OSMO – affordable and you could easily integrate into a clinical or school therapy setting.
- 3D Printing: As 3D printers gain in popularity and lower in price, we are seeing more and more applications to rehabilitation! Not only do they allow us to customize items our clients need (which are then reproducible), they can help decrease costs associated with ‘traditional’ assistive technology products.
- Wearables: Do you have a fitbit? What about an Apple Watch? Wearables are becoming so typical in our day to day lives that we barely even notice people wearing them anymore! There have been some exciting developments recently in this field with the announcement the Apple Watch will be the first wearable to provide fitness and wheeling data for wheelchair users! From Google Glass to wearable sign language translators this is an area of future growth.
- Gamification: Gamification is more of a concept than a technology, but it is worth mentioning here. We are seeing games have an impact in rehabilitation and wellness in ways that are both motivating and fun! Commercial options like the Wii and the Kinect system are a way to work on rehab goals in a non-standard way – check out the WiinWalk program which is currently being evaluated for post-discharge training for individuals with lower limb amputation. For a great example of the gamification of mental health, there’s SuperBetter, a game to improve resilience, overcome challenges, and even fight depression and anxiety.
- Global Access to AT: While we have been relatively privileged in Canada and other developed countries to have access to a range of AT products, this hasn’t been the case around the world in less developed settings. The World Health Organization has recently made it a priority to address access to AT globally through the Global Cooperation on Assistive Technology initiative. Learn more about this initiative by visiting the GATE website or join the GATE community.
BONUS… I know this is a top ten list, but there was one last thing I couldn’t help but mention. One of the best tools for learning more about what is new and exciting in the AT world is social media and crowdsourcing campaigns – especially Twitter and Kickstarter! To find information that people are posting about exciting developments in AT or to share your own thoughts, check out #assistivetech and join the conversation! To explore up and coming technologies, or even support those you think are promising, browse the technology section of Kickstarter for some awesome inspiration!
If you’re interested to learn more about any items on the list, including opportunities for education so you can integrate these ideas into your practice, feel free to contact me and I’ll be happy to connect you the relevant resources!