How technology is driving people of determination to new heights

How technology is driving people of determination to new heights

There are more than one billion people of determination globally – those whose hearing, visual, cognitive, mobility, speech or neural functions are impaired – making them the largest minority group in the world. Ergo, inclusivity is vital in modern society. I feel the UAE is a leading light in the journey towards giving people of determination equal rights and respect in society.

I remember, for example, feeling proud, impressed and delighted when I saw a thin strip of concrete on Jumeirah beach, designed specifically so those in wheelchairs and mobility scooters could get close to the ocean.

Accessibility, in technology terms, is an exciting, bold new horizon. I believe it’s where we see some of the most exciting innovations, and for that reason, it’s a sector worth watching.

And let’s not forget every time you switch your iPhone to night mode, dictate an email while you’re driving a car, or ride a hover board, you’re taking advantage of technologies initially designed to help people of determination.

Indeed, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum himself launched a national strategy to empower people with disabilities in 2017, further codifying plans to make Dubai an accessible, inclusive place for people of determination.

The UAE also has a Disability Act, which became federal law in 2006, and is a signee of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Innovation and creative thinking are being applied to every aspect of disability, heralding a new era of independence, mobility and inclusivity for people of determination.

In the UAE, disability is not even a word we use, and I think we are working towards a society where your physical and mental abilities should not hold you back from achieving what you want in life.

A 2016 report by Nielsen found consumers with disabilities, along with their families, friends and associates, make up a trillion-dollar market segment.

A 2018 Accenture report found that if companies engaged in greater disability inclusion, they’d gain access to a talent pool of more than 10.7 million people.

It’s worth investigating the trends, and what we might see in the next few years. As ever, trend watching, gaining knowledge and developing understanding of a subject area vital part of any entrepreneur’s toolkit.

Here’s some of the trends I’ve identified in my recent reading around technology and people of determination:

More effective/efficient computer accessibility – Bluetooth QWERTY/ Braille keyboards, text-to-speech converters and voice assistants like Siri and Alexa are bringing technology closer to everyone.

Hearing – I’ve been enormously impressed by news of AI-driven hearing aids, featuring neural networks which learn new sounds and process them to sound more natural. To think technology can help alleviate the issues associated with audio and visual impairments is simply thrilling.

Seeing apps – Like Google Maps but driven by audio, visually impaired users can keep their phone in their pockets while being told where to go, and how to reach a destination independently.

Internet accessibility – Websites are increasing built with accessibility options, like being able to adjust font size, text and background colours and have a page read to you. Just a few years ago, this was the realm of sites aimed at people of determination, but is now much more mainstream…the pandemic has also seen speech-to-text apps improve exponentially.

Home automation – As this trend grows, so does the realisation from manufacturers that home automation products have huge potential among people of determination.

Smart assistants/speakers like Alexa, Google Home Mini and Apple’s HomePod can remind us of essential tasks, answer questions by searching online for us, and play music.

Smart sockets mean you can make ‘dumb’ gadgets smart, enabling you to turn things on/off from your tablet or phone. Smart heating can be controlled by your phone or your voice.

Smart locks can be unlocked from your phone, doorbells allow you to know who is at the door, and robot vacuums clean for you.

Electrical stimulation – Nine years ago, David Mzee was left paralysed by a gymnastics accident and told he would never walk again.

He recently competed in a charity run during which he walked 390 metres, thanks to an experimental treatment that uses electrical stimulation of the spinal cord to rejuvenate dormant circuits in patients whose spinal breaks are not complete.

Bionic exoskeletons – American Lyle Fleming was able to walk for the first time in six years thanks to an exoskeleton that has been described as a “legged Segway”.

Designed to help those with paralysis to stand and walk, a similar wearable robotic frame was approved in 2012 by the US Food and Drug Administration for physical rehabilitation, to be used with crutches or walkers.

Future exoskeletons may replace wheelchairs, providing greater mobility and health benefits.

Giving voices to the speech-impaired – Scientists in the US, UK and China are working on prototypes of gloves that translate the hand movements of sign language into speech, allowing real-time verbal communication with people not proficient in sign language.

These exciting, forward—looking innovations are certainly worth watching, and herald an increasingly bright future for people of determination to fulfil their true potential.

It’s thrilling to live in a society that not only respects equality but enables those who are differently-abled to enjoy a rich, purposeful life.