Mobility Impairments

Becoming paralyzed from the waist down at 23 after a diving accident was a turning point in Marca Bristo's life. After seeing how patients with disabilities were treated at the hospital where she worked, she became an advocate for them, fighting for equal rights across multiple platforms. She helped co-found Access Living, a non profit organization that helps people with disabilities maintain independence, and led it for many years. She also joined other disability rights leaders to help pen the ADA, and Bill Clinton even appointed her chair of the National Council on Disability, a role she held for eight years. She succumbed to cancer at age 66 on Sunday, August 31.  

Brent Lowe is no stranger to difficult personal situations. He’s blind, and has lived for years alone with his 24-year-old son (who has cerebral palsy) and a caretaker on Abaco in the Bahamas. Recently, however, Hurricane Dorian made his life exponentially harder. After its fierce winds ripped off the roof of the house where they were hunkering down, Lowe knew he had to get himself and his son out of their house, or risk death. As soon as he stepped off his front porch he found himself chin-deep in water. He had no choice but to put his son over his shoulder and carry him to a neighbor’s house to wait out the storm. Lowe was evacuated to Nassau while his son stayed on Abaco with a family member. With his house gone, Lowe is understandably devastated. "We need a place to go," he said. "I don't know exactly what we are going to do. We need help."

 

Kevan Chandler loves traveling but his spinal muscular atrophy makes it difficult: he has never been able to walk on his own and all too many destinations around the world are not wheelchair-friendly.

Despite this, he and six friends decided to tackle the challenge of traveling together sans wheelchair through Ireland, France, and England. One person always had the 65-pound Kevan strapped to his back, so they were all able to enjoy the magnificent sights of western Europe without worrying whether or not a site would be wheelchair accessible. Kevan chronicled his travels in his book We Carry Kevan: Six Friends. Three Countries. No Wheelchair, which will be released in 2019.

New research from the CDC shows that one in four US adults have a disability that impacts their daily activities. The most common one is mobility disability, which disproportionately affects older adults ages 65 and above at a rate of 40%. The research also reveals an inverse relationship between income and disability, especially mobility. According to the CDC, “mobility disability is nearly five times as common among middle-aged (45- to 64-year old) adults living below the poverty level compared to those whose income is twice the poverty level.” The study also reported that those with vision disabilities were the least likely to have access to medical care.

People with speech disabilities could soon be speaking with their eyes. Building on a technology originally intended to help ESA astronauts, Ivo Vieira, used augmented reality to create the eye tracking technology used in EyeSpeak glasses, which helps people with speech disabilities communicate.

The EyeSpeak glasses detect eye movement across a virtual keyboard displayed on its lenses. The wearer can use the keyboard to write what will be spoken by a speaker worn on the arm. Moreover, the wearer can access content on the internet including email. All the information is overlaid on the lenses so the user can still see their environment.  

Read more about EyeSpeak on GAATES

Google has a well-known policy that allows its employees to spend 20% of their time working on projects not related to their main job. Rio Akasaka, a project manager on Google Drive, took advantage of this policy and put in 20% of his time as a project manager to work on accessibility features for Google Maps.

Mr. Akasaka has worked for a year with a small team of contributors to introduce accessibility guidelines to Google Maps. The result is that, in addition to the information the map tool displays about venues and locations, it now displays information helpful to people with access needs.

While this may seem minor it is a major help to those who use a wheelchair. As with much accessibility, the new information will help other people as well including people who use other devices to assist their mobility and parents of small children using strollers.

For more information read the Business Insider India article.

Crowd sourcing brings the knowledge of the masses to the needs of an individual. As a wheel chair user, Maayan Ziv had an individual need – to know if places in her city were accessible before showing up. This was the inspiration for her new crowd sourcing app, AccessNow, which collects and shares accessibility information around the globe.

AccessNow is a web based app that shows the accessibility status of hotels, restaurants, coffee shops and tourist destination all gathered from the globally crowdsourced information. The information is shown on an interactive map giving the user the benefit of the knowledge prior to traveling to the location. 

Developed at Ecole Polytechnique Federal de Lausanne (FPFL), a mind-controlled telepresence system aims to give some independence to people with paralysis or mobility disabilities.

Nineteen people tested the robot with a hundred percent success rate. Nine people with disabilities and 10 people without disabilities piloted a robot with their thoughts for several weeks. The testers wore an electrode-studded hat, which analyzed their brain signals and transmitted their instruction via the internet in real time to the robot. The robot was located in a lab in Switzerland. 

Fraunhofer has collaborated with victims of thalidomide to develop new IT-based fitness training. The training uses gaming elements to motivate users. The device uses a shoulder pad fitted with small sensors that record movement. The “smart shoulder pad” is connect via blue tooth to a tablet. The data from the shoulder pad controls the avatar allowing for gaming activity. The shoulder pads are part of the akrobatik@home project. Other parts such as a special seat cushion are developed by a project partner GeBioM. The game itself was developed by Exozet Berlin.

For more information see the Global Accessibility News article.

As we work our way into the new year, there are new issues every vertical must address. In 2015 many of these issues center around technology. Education is always at the forefront of new issues and ether reflects or predicts the concerns of the community at large. A January 15, 2015 article by Tanya Roscorla published on the Center for Digital Education website and titled, Top 6 Higher Ed Digital Policy Issues to Watch in 2015  demonstrates this listing the top policy issues as:

  1. Security threats
  2. State authorization for distance education
  3. Internet of Things management
  4. Competency-based education exploration
  5. Staffing shortage
  6. Electronic Accessibility for people with disabilities

Security has sat at the top of many lists for years as the protection of personally identifiable information is a paramount concern for everyone. Just as we clutch our wallets and purses on crowded city streets to keep our credit card numbers and other personal information safe, we demand that same information stay protected as we conduct business on the web.

The branches of the web grow and reach out of our computers into our everyday household items and cars. The internet of things is bringing inventory management into our refrigerators, allowing our phone to talk to our house and soon it may be driving our cars for us.

As we lock things down to protect our security and the web spreads into every aspect of our lives, number 6, the issue of access, becomes increasingly important. Convenience in everyday life needs to extend to everyone.  Digital education has put the classroom in the living room.  A convenience for anyone who is far away from the school or simply doesn’t have time for the commute, is even more necessary for a person with a disability who may have mobility issues or be blind. However, if the digital education platform is not accessible, what should be a convenience becomes a barrier for people with disabilities.

This, of course, extends to ecommerce and any other convenience on the web. Therefore, what is important for education in 2015 becomes important for business and institutions in general. When considering the issues it’s important to look at them together. If worked in silos, an issues like security can oppose accessibility. Looking at them together, however, strengthens both. The expansion of the internet into our things is easy to make accessible if they are work together. Retrofitting accessibility, however, can be much more costly.

While looking at these lists we can ask ourselves how these things are important to what we do and to the people we do it for. 

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