People with Disabilities

UMass Boston’s engineering students have collected a year’s worth of Wi-Fi signal data to create a map of the campus. Using the IBM Accessible Location-based Service, people with disabilities will be able to download an app on their mobile device and identify their location using the Wi-Fi signals. They can then put in a destination and the app will guide them, turn-by-turn, and give accessible route guidance based on the current physical campus environment.

This technology has great potential for other environments such as airports, hospitals, office buildings and shopping malls. It could benefit many people such as:

  • Firefighters
  • The elderly
  • People with short term memory issues
  • People with vision disabilities

Read Dr. Ping Chen’s article on GAAD. 

A Texas A&M University biomedical engineering researcher is developing a device that, while worn on the wrist, translates sign language into text. The wearable tech uses motion sensors in conjunction with measurements of electrical activity in the muscles to interpret gestures.  It can already recognize 40 American Sign Language (ASL) words with an approximate 96 percent accuracy. This gives great promise that the device could bridge the communications delta between people who are deaf and those who don’t know ASL.

For more information see the GAATES article.  

A hand-worn device developed at the University of Nevada, Reno by Yantao Shen uses robotic technology to help people with vision disabilities. The robotic device will allow these people to navigate past movable obstacles and assist in pre-locating, pre-sensing and grasping an object.

The new technology combines vision, tactile force, temperature, audio sensors and actuators to help the user pre-sense an object, locate it, feel the shape and size then grasp it.

Read more about the Robotic Aid

Browser extensions and accessibility settings are great for people who wish to further customize their experience to fit their individual preferences when accessing websites but these are not a replacement for adhering to accessibility guidelines.

The BBC has reported that the tech giant Microsoft wants to hire more people with autism to fill some of its full time positions. To accomplish this Microsoft will work with a specialized recruitment firm, Specialisterne. The announcement was made in the Microsoft on the Issues blog where senior executive Mary Ellen Smith wrote, “People with Autism bring strengths that we need at Microsoft.”

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.

How do people that use a wheelchair know where to go during an emergency? This is the question the director of Egress Group Pty Ltd, Lee Wilson, asked as he was writing an evacuation guidebook for people with disabilities.

Realizing that existing exit signage does not cover people with disabilities, especially those that cannot use fire escapes or stairs, Lee developed the “Accessible Means of Egress Icon,” which can be used to help identify accessible egress routes, exit doors, refuges, elevators and other means of egress. The signs combine the Running Man image and the Accessible Means of Egress Icon working together to escape the building.

The Accessible Exit Signs website has ideas for accessible exit signage and example accessible exit signs.

Today, the US Business Leadership Network® (USBLN®) and the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) are pleased to announce that health insurer Highmark Inc. joined as a Founding Partner of the USBLN and AAPD's new Disability Equality IndexSM (DEISM), an online tool that offers businesses the opportunity to objectively measure their full inclusion of people with disabilities as employees, suppliers, and customers.

"We are thrilled to have Highmark Inc. join us on this groundbreaking initiative for the business and disability communities," said Jill Houghton, Executive Director of the USBLN. "By joining as a DEI Founding Partner, Highmark Inc. is showcasing its support of disability inclusive practices throughout corporate America," said Mark Perriello, President and CEO of AAPD.

Created by leaders in the business and disability communities, and after the successful completion of the DEI pilot with 48 Fortune 1000 scope companies in March 2014, the first Annual DEI was launched to Fortune 1000 companies in October 2014.

The DEI is a benchmarking tool that offers businesses the opportunity to receive an objective score on their disability inclusion policies and practices, and identify avenues for continued improvement. Companies self-report on a wide-range of criteria within four categories: Culture & Leadership, Enterprise-Wide Access, Employment Practices, and Community Engagement & Support Services.

"At Highmark, our employees are paramount to successfully serving our customers every day," said Deb Rice-Johnson, president of Highmark Health Plan and board member of the AAPD. "We strive for an inclusive culture, including recruiting and retaining people with disabilities. We are proud to continue to support the efforts of AAPD and the US Business Leadership Network. In particular, the new Disability Equality Index will help Highmark and other U.S. companies to meet higher, more consistent standards for inclusive workforces that embrace people with disabilities."

Added Sara Oliver-Carter, vice president of Diversity & Inclusion for Highmark Health, "The new Disability Equality Index is an important step forward. It will help Highmark and other companies to better create inclusive, high-performance workforces in which people with disabilities play vital roles."

The DEI Founding Partner status was a one-time opportunity exclusive to the first 15 companies that joined. The USBLN and AAPD are excited to announce that the 15 spots have been filled. To date, DEI Founding Partners include American Airlines, CVS Health, DuPont, GlaxoSmithKline, Highmark Inc., Lockheed Martin, New Editions Consulting, Inc., Northrop Grumman Corporation, Raytheon, Walmart, and WellPoint. The other DEI Founding Partners will be announced soon. Comcast / NBCUniversal is the DEI Exclusive Founding Technology Partner. Companies interested in learning more about other DEI opportunities should contact Liz Taub, USBLN Director, Business Relations & Strategic Partnerships, at

For more information about the DEI, please visit:

A team of neuroscientist and video game designers from the University of Lincoln, UK and the WESC Foundation, a leading specialist school for children with disabilities in the UK, have been testing a new computer game which may help some children with disabilities lead independent lives.  The game called Eyelander is designed to improve the functional vision of children who have vision disabilities related to brain injury.

Ian Burkhart, 23, is a quadriplegic from Ohio that is the first patient to use Neurobridge, which is an electronic neural bypass for spinal cord injuries. The revolutionary technology combines algorithms that learn and decode the user’s brain activity and a high-definition muscle stimulation sleeve that translate the impulses from the brain and transmits signals to the paralyzed limb.

The Ohio State and Battelle teams collaborated to figure out the correct sequence of electrodes to enable Burkhart to move his fingers and hand functionally. Burkhart was paralyzed 4 years ago in a diving accident and volunteered for the project viewing it as an opportunity to help others.


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