As technology continues to advance, most people get excited about the prospect of increasingly futuristic gadgets and high-tech toys. However, for people living with disabilities or other health challenges, new technological advances mean a lot more, as they can often significantly improve quality of life.

During November, R&D Magazine took a special focus on assistive technologies—a field that encompasses products, equipment and systems that enhance learning, working, and daily living for persons with disabilities. We also looked at the role several cutting-edge technologies had for those facing significant health issues.

Technology for wheelchair-bound individuals

For those who have lost the use of their upper or lower extremities due to disease or injury, life can be limited. Fortunately, new technologies are emerging every day to help this population. We featured two cutting-edge wheelchair technologies, the Eyedrivomatic and the

The Eyedrivomatic, featured in our article Eye-Driven Wheelchair Gives Quadriplegics More Independence,” is an add-on system that turns any electric wheelchair into a gaze-controlled wheelchair. Although the Eyedrivomatic could be utilized by people with a variety of disabilities, it was created by Patrick Joyce, an ALS patient from the United Kingdom, to help others with ALS who don’t have the ability to control their arms, legs or head and therefore cannot move their wheelchairs independently.

The PneuChair, featured in our article “New Waterproof Wheelchair is Powered Entirely by Compressed Air,”  is a pneumatic wheelchair that forgoes the traditional heavy battery energy source for high-pressured air. The chair is waterproof because it does not use any electronics, offering users the opportunity to participate in a number of activities that may have been previously impossible, such as going to lakes, beaches and water parks.

Tech for healing

In our article, “New Exoskeleton Could Help Paraplegics Stand, Walk,” we featured ARKE, a one-size-fits-all exoskeleton that assists wheelchair-bound individuals with standing and walking during rehabilitation. The technology is constructed with carbon fiber, aluminum and steel and connects to cloud software where data can be analyzed and displayed back to a physiotherapist in real-time.

Those who have experienced a stroke often have to overcome lingering brain damage that can make motor tasks difficult. To help these patients heal, Fabrizio Sergi, PhD, a researcher at the University of Delaware, is combining cutting-edge imaging and robotics technology to create a treatment paradigm for stroke survivors that is patient-specific and patient-adaptive. We featured Sergi’s work in our article “MRI-Compatible Robot Could Lead to Individualized Treatments for Stroke Survivors.”

Unexpected solutions 

We also looked at several surprising ways technologies are improving lives.

Our article “How Spider Silk Could Help Enhance Hearing Aids,” outlined an unconventional material that could be the key to improving an important piece of assistive technology. The story explains how researchers from Binghamton University have discovered that fine fibers like spider silk could boost the quality of microphones built into hearing aids.

Smart phones are another unexpected technology that can improve quality of life for those facing health challenges. In our article “How a Mobile App Could Help Manage Migraines,” we highlighted Migraine Alert, a mobile application that alerts patients as to when they are most likely to experience a migraine episode, using machine learning to collect and analyze triggers that correlate with the onset of an episode like weather, stress, activity, and sleep. 

In an emergency, a smart phone can also help doctors better diagnose and treat patients. In our article Ultrasound on a Chip Brings Medical Imaging to the iPhone,” we featured the iQ, a compact, inexpensive ultrasound tool that hooks into the lighting jack of an iPhone. The ultrasound device gives doctors the ability to get the answers for diagnosis right at the point-of-care, therefore optimizing their decisions for treatment of their patient population.

Improving education

Even with so many amazing technologies coming to the market, it is not always easy for those with disabilities and health issues to access them. We tackled accessibility in the classroom for visually impaired students in our article “Assistive Technology Helpful in the Classroom for Visually Impaired.” Luis Perez, a Florida-based digital accessibility consultant, spoke to R&D Magazine about barriers to getting technology to blind students and others with disabilities. He explained that while educators may have the technology available to help these students, they are not always properly trained on the full capabilities of the technology.

The elderly is another population that is not always aware of assistive technologies that may benefit them. In our article “Non-Profit Helps Aging Population Take Advantage of New Technologywe featured Older Adults Technology Services (OATS), a Brooklyn-based non-profit that seeks to educate and train the aging population on how to use a variety of technologies, including smart-enabled appliances and devices. Some of the services OATS offers include teaching seniors about assistive technology such as Amazon Echo system, Google Home, the Nest Thermostat, and different assistive smart systems for locks, lights, and doorbells.