Thanks to technological development, people with disabilities are able to advance every day towards their digital and social integration under equal conditions. The integrating role of new technologies is unquestionable and, thanks to the support systems for people with disabilities, an effective integration is promoted in the labour and social field that equalizes opportunities and fosters a fairer society.

Advantages of the use of technological resources. ICT and disability

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 15% of the world’s population has some kind of disability. That’s about 900 million people worldwide.

In Andalusia there are thousands of people with disabilities who may see their professional and personal possibilities reduced, however thanks to the development of technologies and support systems for people with disabilities are advancing towards digital and social integration in equal conditions.

The advantages of ICTs for people with disabilities are more than evident and this is shown in the recent report “Disability, integration and the role of ICTs”, prepared by the Vodafone Foundation and Cocemfe which highlights that the use of new technologies is widespread among people with disabilities since:

  • 83% have a mobile phone of which 62% is a smartphone.
  • Three out of four people with disabilities have a computer to connect to the Internet.
  • Almost 7 out of 10 of the people with disabilities surveyed connect to the Internet on a daily basis.
  • 80% use some technological resource in their daily life.
  • Mobile applications are the most used resource by people with some kind of visual or hearing disability.
  • Visually impaired people are those who make the most common use of mobile phones.
  • 17% use some kind of technological resources or support system for people with disabilities.

In this context, what are the advantages of ICTs for people with disabilities?

  • It favours personal autonomy when it comes to solving daily problems and procedures.
  • It improves self-esteem thanks to the use of technological resources to communicate, obtain information or access job opportunities.
  • It puts them in direct contact with associations or people with disabilities in the same situation with whom they can establish collaborative networks.
  • It allows them to adapt their home and their tasks thanks to the use of support systems for people with disabilities.

Classification of support systems for persons with disabilities

The technological resources for disability are very varied and for better understanding can be classified into five groups.

They are ICT resources and tools at the service of people with visual or hearing disabilities, which modify the signal, increasing it or changing it in order to be perceived in a more accessible way. As we have seen, technology for the visually impaired is one of the most popular terms in searches for support systems for people with disabilities and we can find it in:

  • Augmentative systems are aimed at people who are visually and hearing impaired, but still retain some of their sensory abilities. The device increases the signal that is sent to the subject so that it can be received by the subject without problems.
  • Alternative systems are means that allow people to whom it is impossible for information to reach through a certain sensory modality to change the nature of that information so that they can access it through another sensory modality that the person maintains functional.

Some examples of these resources for people with disabilities are.

  • Speech technologies: speech recognition, text-to-speech conversion, etc.
  • Interactive multimedia systems: these are systems that process, store and transmit images, voice, text and data in an integrated way, offering the possibility of acting on their contents, so that the person interacts with them.
  • Advanced communications: videotelephony or text telephone.

Alternative and augmentative communication systems

Systems developed for people who, due to their disability, cannot access a verbal-oral communication code.

  • Augmentative systems are instruments that complement oral language, when by itself it is insufficient to maintain effective communication with others.
  • Alternative systems are any form of communication other than speech and used by a person in face-to-face communication contexts.

These resources for people with disabilities can be classified into:

  • Supported systems: communication boards, communicators, computer programs.
  • Systems without support: manual signs, mime, gestures.

Computer access technologies

Adapt technology for people with disabilities from instruments, tools, adaptive interfaces that allow people with physical or sensory disabilities to make use of a computer. For example:

  • Signs and pushbuttons: tools that allow the user to access computer peripherals without having to change or adapt them. Some examples are: buccal rod (allows the user to press the keys of the computer by holding it with the mouth); foot pushbutton (to operate with the foot); fibre optic pushbutton (operated with eye movements); etc.
  • Keyboards: There are several types of keyboards used by people with disabilities. Some examples are: special keyboards (larger than normal or smaller to adapt to the range of movement of users); ergonomic keyboard (to adapt to the shape of the hands or fingers, or to be used with a single hand); concept keyboard (can be programmed and associated with various spaces of the same, also can be programmed the size of each key to adapt to the needs of the user); braille line (translates information from the monitor, either text, graphics or others, to Braille language), etc…
  • Mice: ball mouse (allows to direct the movement of the cursor with the central ball it has, without having to move it on the table); special mice (with ergonomic or wireless designs); sweeping mouse; mouth mouse (to operate with the mouth); infrared mouse (mouse emulator by means of a sensor placed on the user’s head and a control unit placed on the computer monitor); and so on.
  • Other devices: electronic whiteboards, digital canes, adapted browsers, touch screens, etc.

Technologies for personal mobility

Related to the mobility of people and architectural barriers. They are instruments destined to diminish a disability, performing the function that the person by himself cannot do. For example: arms or articulated supports, communicators attached to wheelchairs, micro-robots, adapted cranes, etc.

Two examples of this technology for people with motor disabilities are:

  • Chip for paraplegics: created by British scientists, it is a small implantable device that releases electrical impulses to help paralyzed people to exercise. It is placed between the spinal nerves where it releases electrical impulses.
  • “Phantom” or dedo-robot for the blind: a mechanism that, through a combination of virtual reality scenarios linked to a dedo-robot, allows the blind to feel the touch of objects represented by computers, allowing them to appreciate whether a structure is concave or convex, or to know the texture or thickness of a piece. Linked, for example, to the map of a house, the blind person can make a mental sketch of it and avoid possible obstacles.

Environment control systems.

These technological resources for people with disabilities allow, for communication purposes, the manipulation of devices that help control the environment and make it more accessible.

Two examples of this technology for people with disabilities:

  • Environmental control: interfaces and tools that allow people with motor disabilities to control devices for domestic use. A clear example of them is the so-called “Domotics”, technology that serves as the basis for many of the functionalities of intelligent homes.
  • Augmented reality: It uses new entry and exit devices to assist people with disabilities, such as: sensitive gloves; positioners in space (which allow the user to orient themselves); intelligent auditory glasses (equipped with sensors and augmented reality technology that convert obstacles into three-dimensional sounds and guide them to avoid them); etc.