Assistive technology - tech that changes lives

Posted by Ms. Gadget
Ms. Gadget
Megan Ellis is a New Media student and young journalist at Rhodes University.
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on Monday, 30 April 2012
in Digital Blogs

We’re flooded with new technological innovations, many of them advertising the way that they ‘change the game’ – but real technological innovations are those which actually change lives.

Assistive technology does this. This type of technology refers to equipment and devices which is assistive, adaptive or rehabilitative for people with disabilities.

The latest innovation I’ve seen in assistive technology brain-computer interface which bypasses spinal cord injury paralysis. This interface was created by scientists at the Northwestern University of Chicago and is able to bypass the spinal cord and restore fine motor movement to paralysed limbs. It aims to act as a new nervous system for the patient.

This is one of many of the technological developments for people with paralysed limbs. However, these are other disabilities which assistive technology continues to aid.

Assistive technology in computers has improved the usability of PCs for people who are deaf or blind. Braille computers, text-to-speech and screen readers are all examples of technology aimed at assisting the blind. Technology which assists the deaf community includes Text Telephones and Visual Alert Signallers.

But not all technology which can be used to assist people with disabilities was created with that function as the sole goal. Some mainstream technologies have been adapted to suit the needs of people with disabilities. In fact, even the iPad has played a role in this market by providing apps which assist children with special needs.  

A major problem which I have encountered in reading about assistive technology is the price. While this technology can greatly improve the lives of people with disabilities, it is inaccessible to people who cannot afford the high prices.

This issue is pertinent in South Africa whose infrastructure is still developing in terms of accessibility to people with disabilities. While assistive technology is available in South Africa, it still has a long way to go in terms of development and price. This of course opens up the issue of the status of disable persons in South African society, with lack of accessibility being one of the symptoms.

While the Department of Education does have information on how to acquire assistive technology for children, assistive technology has a long way to go in South Africa. However, with things such as the ‘digital divide’ affected access to technology in SA, it’s uncertain as to when quality assistive tech will be available to the majority of South Africans who need it.

To see more assistive tech which was not mentioned here, check out my curated page on – Technology and Disability.


a Bright Eyes groupie with incurable addictions to Lost, Bukowski, coffee and co
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simonearmer Monday, 30 April 2012

Aiding the differently abled

It's great that this kind of technology is thought of and produced to begin with, but it's disheartening that the ones who need it most are often the ones who cannot afford it. Is this technology being employed by homes and associations that care for the disabled?

Ms. Gadget
Ms. Gadget
Megan Ellis is a New Media student and young journalist at Rhodes University.
User is currently offline
Ms. Gadget Wednesday, 02 May 2012


I've seen online videos about using this tech in schools and homes for those with special needs (one video is on the link), but when I studied SA Sign Language, an issue which was brought up is that in SA many schools and associations which cater for people with disabilities are poorly-funded and do not have the infrastructure or staff to aid people as much as they would like.

Medical aids also do not support the latest innovations in tech as they are incredibly pricey. Our government hospitals can't even supply enough beds for patients, so I think government homes and NGOs do not have the resources to aid people as much as they would like to. Most SA assistive technology continues to be for PC.

This may be different in private homes and schools, but once again, only a minority of the population can afford this. Disabled people in poor contexts can apply for a government grant, however this is far too little to get them access to advanced assistive technology.

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