June 5, 2023 5:46 pm

Be it finishing up his homework for the day, or accessing the laptop or computer lab in the college he attends, a very simple, however effectively-believed-out device is what 14-year-old Madhav*, a student with muscular dystrophy utilizes. Given that he can’t move his arms, Madhav accesses computer systems and other intelligent devices hands-no cost with the assist of ‘Mousewear’ strapped on his head. 

From electric wheelchairs and hearing aids to devices like ‘Mousewear’, there has been steady innovation, and an evolution of assistive technologies, to assist young children with a variety of disabilities focusing on understanding, communication, mobility, and most importantly- leisure.

The Globe Overall health Organisation (WHO) defines “Assistive Technology” as an umbrella term covering systems and solutions connected to the delivery of assistive merchandise and solutions aimed at preserving or enhancing an individual’s functioning or independence. 

According to estimates by WHO, two.five billion individuals globe more than want a single or far more assistive devices. These numbers are anticipated to improve beyond three.five billion by 2050 provided a international ageing population and a rise in non-communicable illnesses.

Obtaining extensively worked with young-adults who are on the autism spectrum, Kavitha Krishnamurthy, Co-Founder of CanBridge Academy, says technologies powered assistive devices which assist with communication have been a ‘game changer’. 

Game changer for communication

“For young children and young-adults with autism who are non-vocal, or even these who have restricted language abilities, an app like Avaz AAC is tremendously supportive. Youngsters are capable to communicate greater with this, and we in turn, get some insight into how a great deal they know and have learnt,” she mentioned. 

A image and text-primarily based AAC app that empowers young children and adults with complicated communication requirements to express themselves and find out, Avaz was developed by Invention Labs, a begin-up from IIT Madras. Through the pandemic when the use of electronic devices elevated, parents whose young children and young-adults study at CanBridge went by means of comprehensive sessions with Akila Vaidyanathan, founder and Director, Amaze Charitable Trust, Coimbatore, on how they can facilitate the use of Avaz greater. 

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“Compared to yen years ago, we are capable to do so a great deal far more now owing to the technologies readily available. The concentrate is on producing understanding, communication, and leisure for young children with disabilities effortless and intuitive — some thing technologies has played a large component in,” Ms. Kavitha adds. 

When it comes to communication in certain, there’s a lot of emphasis on independence and what assistive technologies can do for the identical. Recently, as a component of the Worldwide Accessibility Awareness Day, Alexa, an A.I. service created by Amazon and Avaz, came with each other to highlight how young children on the autism spectrum can use their tech. 

A non-verbal kid on the autism spectrum, Rudransh, a six-year-old boy communicates to his family members by means of non-verbal gestures and prompts them to use the Alexa Device to play a song. When he began utilizing Avaz, his parents utilised the app to audio record and pre-plan Alexa commands to play his favourite songs- enabling him to independently access the device. 

Assistive technologies: homegrown and far more

A go to to Chennai’s extremely personal Museum of Possibilities is a clearly shows how far assistive technologies has come more than the years, and the sheer quantity of devices readily available in the marketplace — specifically these that are homegrown. 

Vidyasagar, an organisation operating with and for persons with disabilities, which collaborated with the Tamil Nadu Government towards setting up the museum, has for lengthy been a pioneer when it comes to assistive technologies- specifically in their perform with young children who have a variety of disabilities. 

“As a parent or as a expert, we perform with the aim of producing young children and young adults as independent as feasible. We are in an era with immense access to assistive technologies- and at Vidyasagar, we bring this in as early as feasible. With the assist of a battery or even a compact switch, the toys that young children commence to play with can be produced accessible, and we then perform on assisting them use technologies to access rhymes and songs on the web,” mentioned Kalpana Rao, principal, Day Care Centre, Vidyasagar. 

In their perform more than the years, Vidyasagar hasn’t stopped at just making sure the availability of accessible and reasonably priced technologies and devices for young children. The organisation has developed their personal switch – VINNER VBosS – a plug and play USB device, programmed to allow the left click of a mouse. This is aimed to assist individuals with restricted motor abilities who have a trouble with accessing a keyboard or a mouse, and can be attached to a laptop or computer, tablet or any intelligent device. 

For young children, apps such as Avaz, and Study Please Plus which facilitate communication by means of Text-to-Speech, are introduced by way of laptops or bigger intelligent devices in schools, As they develop older, intelligent phones come into the image.

At schools that exclusively cater to young children with specific requirements, there is no dearth of technologies like this. An early innovation in the field of assistive technologies and some thing that continues to be of utmost significance – screen readers, as effectively as audio recordings, tactile images and far more are favoured by students at the Nethrodaya Free of charge Residential Greater Secondary College for students who are visually impaired. 

The school’s founder C. Govindakrishnan says, there is a entire dimension to assistive technologies for the visually-impaired which is frequently ignored. “There is a particular ‘’traditional’ tag provided to persons who are visually impaired and we are anticipated to nevertheless only stick to utilizing Braille. When the globe has moved on by leaps and bounds technologically, it is only fair that we be provided a possibility to discover the identical by means of assistive technologies readily available for us,” he says. 

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Students at the college are introduced to computer systems from main college alongside Braille, and develop into familiar as they develop older with screen reader apps. “In the final handful of years, I’ve noticed students favor audio recordings of lectures or even their books, which are study out and recorded by volunteers to utilizing a screen reader. The Tamil Nadu Government’s video lessons primarily based on their textbooks which are readily available on the web also are immensely beneficial,” Mr. Govindakrishnan explains.

The truth is, students have been embracing technologies more rapidly than ever, specifically right after the pandemic exactly where there was an upswing in the use of electronic devices owing to the closure of schools.

“While we insist on utilizing computer systems or laptops more than smartphones for young students, as they develop older, smartphones come to be really valuable to access tech like this,” he adds. A employees member at his college says that for students, there is no dearth of possibilities when it comes to screen reader apps. “There are more than one hundred apps that students can use- the most well known ones amongst these getting JAWS (Job Access with Speech), and NVDA (Non Visual Desktop Access).”


Innovations could possibly be aplenty, but effortless are these to access, specifically in mainstream schools?

With ‘Mouseware’, Pravin Kumar, CEO, Dextroware, a begin-up in IIT Madras underscores how essential it is for each the parent and college neighborhood to be conscious of such assistive devices and make sure young children have access to them. A head-wearable device, Mouseware has a compact sensor box which is mounted on the head of the user who will then be capable to manage a laptop or computer or smartphone with head movements. The clicks can be accomplished by means of a foot-operated switch, or other switches which can be customise ddepending on the user’s physical potential.  

“The presence of a device like this in the laptop or computer lab of a mainstream college for instance, will be of terrific assist to students with disabilities studying there. We want to go beyond ramps and make understanding spaces accessible for all young children,” he adds.

Whilst there is immense concentrate on understanding and communication for young children with physical and intellectual disabilities, assistive technologies that facilitates leisure is equally, if not far more essential, specialists say. 

Assistive technologies for leisure

For neurodivergent young children and young adults who are resistant to go out to public spaces which involve parks, film theatres or the beach, VR and AR devices are proving to be really valuable. They are encouraged to expertise stimulations of these spaces many occasions, till they are comfy with the concept of going to the actual space. 

“Virtual and Augmented Reality assists us address quite a few sensory challenges that young children could possibly face. What we perceive as really standard and standard, could possibly bother them and in this predicament, these simulations come in handy,” mentioned Durga Priya, Head of Therapy, Mirra Charitable Trust.

From utilizing an XBox 360 which has games that young children with restricted movement can participate in and appreciate, to utilizing songs and games especially developed for young children in her sessions, Ms. Durga mentioned that young children take to the visual element that these technologies have which tends to make it effortless for them to comply with and have an understanding of. Functioning with neurodiverse people, Ms Durga mentioned that there are a variety of assistive technologies that assist address distinctive locations- physical therapy, movement, social navigation and a great deal far more. 

“For young children who have movement challenges or the weakness of a single limb, we use Smart glove — a wearable device which assists them operate a virtual keyboard. Physique vests come in handy for young children who have gravitational insecurity,” she says.

Challenges, and the way forward

As is the case with any new technologies, hesitation, and even resistance to a particular extent is not far away when it comes to assistive technologies as effectively. This specifically, for technologies or devices that concentrate on understanding and communication.

“While some parents are immediately enthusiastic, there is a section that desires to keep away from gadgets or apps for communication and are hesitant to introduce it to their young children in the worry that they could possibly be glued to it. Parents think that this could possibly cut down social interaction even additional,” mentioned Radha Nandhakumar, founder and managing trustee, Gurukulam, an integrated centre for young children with specific requirements.

Whilst she says that assistive technologies applications like Avaz can facilitate communication, she stresses on the want for correctly utilizing them and the significance of far more awareness in this regard. “Any assistive technologies for communication in certain, ought to be utilised judiciously and only to facilitate, not replace the organic improvement procedure,” Ms. Radha adds.

A Senior Occupational Therapist, and President, Tamil Nadu Occupational Therapists Association, V. Vanchinathan highlights a further essential aspect of assistive devices and technologies- customisation. “Any adaptive device has to 1st be customised according to the requirements of the person. Every single individual’s physical and mental skills will be distinctive- and a a single-size fits all method can’t be taken with regard to any device or technologies for a variety of disabilities,” he says.

He additional stresses on the significance of going by an evaluation and suggestions of an occupational therapist. “They play a essential part in the evaluation of the person and the atmosphere they are in. Men and women ought to verify with certified occupational therapists, who will be capable to guide them on how to customise assistive devices or technologies to their specifications with regard to the style and supplies utilised,” he added. 

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