Technology Developments Improve Life for People with Disabilities

Michal Prywata and Thiago Caires, AMO Arm Creators. Photo by James Kachan

It’s quite common to hear people say that they couldn’t function without their phone, or that their life is on their laptop. But for some, life really does rely on technology. For people with disabilities, technology provides the ability to move and communicate. And for them, the constant evolution and development of technology is invaluable. Recent breakthroughs are creating new opportunities and provisions, moving us forward on the path to accessibility.

In 2011, two Ryerson University undergraduate students created a new prosthetic arm that is controlled by the user’s brain signals. The Artificial Muscle-Operated Arm sends a signal from a headset to a miniature computer in the arm to activate the required movement (more information here). The developments of young people give promise to an accessible future.

Another great example is Nike’s new product: The Nike Sole. This adapted running shoe works with the Flex-Run Foot, a prosthetic foot designed for runners by the orthopedic company Ossur. The sole slips over the flex foot to work like a traditional running shoe, providing support, traction, and absorb shock. Nike has been working with Ossur and marathoner Sarah Reinersten since 2006 on this new development that promises to change the running experience for people with prosthetic legs/feet.

In similar news, NASA technology has been adapted and applied by a company called Alter G. The company created a treadmill for persons with disabilities: the M320 and P200. The machine allows users to adjust the body-weight reduction up to 80% so that they are able to support themselves while walking or running, some for the first time ever.

And lastly, new web and smartphone applications are being developed every day to serve people with disabilities. One of the more recent apps is the Rick Hansen Global Accessibility Map. It is an online rating tool where consumers can submit and obtain reviews on community accessibility. The app is designed to raise awareness about the importance of improved physical access to public spaces.

Accessibility is ever-changing. And with new technology and developments, we can achieve accessibility in new and exciting ways!

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Is web content just one click away?

If you were asked to picture your idea of accessibility, what would you see? An entrance way with a ramp? A building with an elevator? What if you were asked to picture a person with a disability? Is he or she in a wheelchair? We often think of accessibility as physical access for people in wheelchairs. But it has a much broader scope.

Web accessibility extends beyond physical space. The power of the web lies in its universality; access for everyone is an essential element. The ability to “be online” is an integral part of our lives: we pay our bills, we shop, we read the news, we interact with friends, etc. In fact, there are businesses that exist almost entirely on the web (Amazon, Google, eBay). Yet many services and websites are not accessible to groups of people with certain disabilities.

Potential users may include persons who are color blind, partially or completely blind, hard of hearing, or deaf. Users may also have limited mobility in their upper body or a learning disability.

These individuals most likely encounter barriers to their online navigation on a daily basis. Things like small text and poor color contrast could impact those with color or partial blindness. For deaf people, multimedia components may be difficult to access without captions. Sites that require a mouse to navigate present a barrier for persons with limited mobility. And complicated writing may provide difficulty for anyone with a learning disability.

So what can you do? Simple changes can include altering your page and text colors so everything is clear and easy to read. Make sure to underline your links or add a symbol or picture so that people who are color blind can easily identify them. Another easy one is adding captions to your images, audio clips, and videos. And lastly, write simple sentences that are easy to read and to understand (in a decent-sized font!)

If you are more advanced in the IT department, check out ways to alter your code to allow for keyboard navigation and screen-reader compatibility.

The web is such a big part of our daily lives that it has become a necessity. It provides access to almost anything you can think of. The phrase “Google it” is probably expressed once every few seconds around the globe. So now it’s our turn to provide access to the web!

For a quick review of accessibility on our site, check out the video below



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