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How Have Wearables Expanded Access for People with Disabilities?

Morten Hansen

August 24, 2015

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Question

It's been 25 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, and as an audiologist I've seen a lot of changes during that time.  Is the growth of wearables having an impact in this area?

Answer

That is a great question.  The year 1990 was a revolutionary year for Americans with disabilities. It was the year in which the Americans with Disabilities Act (the ADA) was passed, creating new possibilities for this portion of the population by recognizing and addressing the challenges that previously prevented people with disabilities from living entirely independent lives. Now, twenty-five years later, we have made great strides on a path that will always have room for growth – innovations are continuing to push the boundaries to give those living with disabilities more options that help them navigate the world with greater independence, and as technology advances, so will the opportunities for what is possible in the realm of accessibility. Wearables are one such option – a phenomenon seamlessly blending technology and healthcare that allows an individual, personal approach to managing healthcare.

Before the emergence of wearable technology, routine solutions for vision loss, hearing loss, or other disabilities could be cumbersome, difficult to afford, or exhausting to maintain. Twenty years ago, glasses were as thick as your vision was bad and people couldn’t wear contacts with an astigmatism. At the same time, hearing aids were visually obtrusive and only offered limited settings for different listening environments. As technology has progressed, so too has the functional capacity of wearable devices. Now, wearables offer more options to more people than ever before – especially to people with needs outside the average consumer.

Today, the power of wearable technology is remarkable. Popularly associated with gadgets like bracelets and belt-clips, we’ve seen innumerable on-person devices launched in the last few years that directly enhance personal healthcare. They can track everything from blood sugar levels, helping to remind a patient with diabetes when they need their insulin, to asthmatic episode frequency and severity, allowing asthma patients to more easily communicate a spike in attacks with their doctors. These are incredible technological feats and can genuinely contribute to increasing the prevalence of healthy lifestyle choices, but wearable technologies can be so much more than vehicles for tracking information. They can improve overall quality of life for people living with disabilities by delivering increased access to communication and enhanced environmental awareness.

These benefits of wearable technology also provide an increased sense of independence for the disabled community.  Recently, Novartis launched an app for the Apple Watch that helps blind people travel to a particular destination by vibrating to communicate turn-by-turn directions. Here at GN ReSound, we introduced the very first Made for iPhone hearing aid that enables people living with hearing loss to adjust their settings right from their phone, rather than having to fiddle directly with the device. The smart phone app delivers control over settings like wind- and noise-reduction, allowing wearers move from one sound environment to the next with ease. Advancements like these – innovations that combine medical needs with technological developments – are a revolution for people with disabilities because they integrate seamlessly in their everyday lives.

For example, Molly Watt, (www.mollywatt.com), an Usher Syndrome sufferer and awareness advocate, has used hearing aids since she was a young child and officially registered as blind at the age of fourteen. Molly travels the world speaking about increasing accessibility options with her great guide dog, Unis. She utilizes the ReSound SmartTM app and her Apple Watch to help support her independent and active lifestyle – she can even adjust her hearing aids with one hand while still keeping a hand on her guide dog’s leash.  Molly credits wearable technology with helping her feel safe and secure by increasing her environmental awareness, and empowering her to continue traveling and exploring new places even with her significant hearing and vision loss. 

Wearable technologies promise simplicity and ease – from helping monitor symptoms in real-time to helping a blind person navigate new neighborhoods. Even more, for people with disabilities, personalized wearable technology allows for unprecedented environmental control – giving greater freedom and independence than ever before. As the field of wearable technologies continues to expand, so too does the opportunity to help people with disabilities access the world and live effortlessly.


Morten Hansen

Morten Hansen is Vice President of Partnerships & Connectivity with GN ReSound, a leading international developer and manufacturer of advanced and innovative hearing healthcare solutions. He is passionate about using cutting edge technology to set new standards in hearing healthcare and using innovative platforms to empower users to take control of their disabilities. Hansen is based in Copenhagen, Denmark.


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