How Technology Is Helping People With Disabilities

Assistive technology is an umbrella term, used for technology that enables people with medical disabilities to perform tasks that they were formerly unable to accomplish.  The emergence of mobile “assistive” technologies that work with the best wireless router technology has unlocked unprecedented new possibilities for communication, navigation, and independence of the disabled.  There are many apps and gadgets that can help ease the difficulties of people with disabilities like visual impairment, speech impairment, and motion disorders, on a daily basis. In this post, we will be telling you about some of these gadgets and apps.

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Refreshable Braille Displays

Refreshable braille displays use electromechanically controlled pins to convey information. They do this using software that gathers a Web page’s content and converts the words and images into a digital version of braille. It then represents the text with a touchable row of finger-size rectangular cells, lined up side by side, like dominoes. Each cell has six or eight small holes through which rounded pins can extend, and retract, to represent various braille characters. Each time a person reads the row of braille with his fingers (left to right) the pin configurations refresh to represent the next line of a Web page’s text, and so on.


Dot is the world’s first Braille smartwatch. It’s a wearable solution that is more affordable than e-Braille display devices. With the aid of Dot, blind people can access messages, tweets, and even books, and it syncs via Bluetooth to smartphones to retrieve and translate the text from an email, into Braille, for its wearer.


Talkitt is an innovative voice app which helps enable people with speech, language, and motor-skill disorders to communicate easily using their own voice. It translates unintelligible pronunciation into understandable speech, so we can understand what they meant to say, despite the speech impediment. Talkitt works by learning the speaker’s speech pattern and creating its own personal dictionary. Thus, it can work in any language.

Sesame Phone

Regular mobile phones are not equipped for the needs of people with limited mobility and motor skills. The Sesame Phone, a touch-free smartphone that is specially designed for people with disabilities, helps them access all the features of a smartphone, without even touching this device. Gestures are recognized as if you were using a finger to operate it: swipe, browse, play and more. Voice control is also added to provide a real hands-free experience on the phones. This phone is designed to be used with small head movements, tracked by its front-facing camera.  


UNI is a two-way communication tool for the deaf, and it uses gesture and speech technology. It’s equipped with voice recognition software that converts speech into text. This tool works by detecting hand and finger gestures with its specialized camera algorithm, then converting it to text in very short time, to provide meaning to a given sign language. UNI also has a sign builder that can help the user create his own sign-language.

Finger Reader

The Finger Reader is a wearable tool to help read text. It has two functions: to help the visually impaired read printed text in a book or on an electronic device, and also to be used as a language translation tool.

A user can wear this device on a finger and then point it to a body of text, one line at a time. The small camera on the Finger Reader will scan the text and give real-time audio feedback of the words it detects. It also notifies the reader via vibrations when it is at the start of a line, end of a line, moving to a new line, or when the user is moving too far away from the text baseline.


BeMyEyes is an interactive app that can help blind people “see” the world. It works on a network of volunteers from around the world, who connect with the blind in order to give whatever help they require. It is an easy way to ask for help for simple tasks like checking on the expiry date on a milk carton. Volunteers receive requests for help, and if they are available, the request triggers a video call to volunteers so they can help the user.


Many public sites are not equipped with facilities for the disabled, like wheelchair-accessible restrooms. AXS Map is a crowd-sourced map that carries information and star-ratings about wheelchair-accessible ramps and restrooms in public places such as restaurants, hotels, shopping malls and more.


Transcence is a great phone app for the deaf, especially applicable in group conversations. The deaf can communicate via one-on-one conversations using sign language or lip-reading, but not in a group-discussion. This is where Transcence comes into use. During a conversation or discussion, the app uses the microphone of each participant’s smartphone and catches what they are saying. It then converts the sounds into text in real time. Each speaker has its corresponding text bubble, differentiated by color, just like what one would find in a regular group messaging chat room.


Liftware is a self-stabilizing handle which can be fixed on an eating apparatus such as a fork or a spoon. Liftware helps reduce the spilling of contents from the utensil before food reaches the patient’s mouth, by stabilizing up to seventy percent of the shaking or disruption. It’s very helpful for patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease or other forms of motion disorders that cause hand tremors.

Each Liftware comes with the stabilizing handle, a charger, and three utensils- a spoon, fork and soup spoon. Each charge can last for several meals, and the handle can be wiped down while the spoons and fork can be washed like a normal utensil.


Assist-Mi is an assistance application that helps disabled people to get assistance in real-time. It basically connects service providers and caregivers with the disabled who may need their assistance at a moment’s notice. Services include help in getting to work, to go shopping for essentials or for travel. It works on a registration based data-source.

Are you happy for your health data to be shared? Find out how new data protection legislation might affect you

As concerns grow about how our information is being used, especially with the rise of interactive technology such as social media and apps which require the input of personal data, new rules and regulations are being put in place to keep users safe.

Healthcare and technology
Healthcare and technology

• The rise of health apps and wearable tech related to fitness and wellness and the use of the personal data inputted will see the EU introduce a law in 2018, which governs how organisations in Europe manage this sensitive data
• The definition for what constitutes health data currently encapsulates the type of information collected by wearables such as Fitbit, Apple Watch and health apps, potentially forcing it to be treated in the same strict manner reserved for medical records
• But there are calls for the EU to rethink the law with new research showing the majority of us would be happy for health data to be shared if it could be used by health professionals to recommend medication or for apps to alert them if their health is at risk
• Opponents say that at a time when the NHS is predicted to be staring at an annual deficit of £2bn, data-based healthcare could drive huge cost savings and also improve quality of life

Respected technology and life sciences law firm, Osborne Clarke, calls for action from EU regulators to re-think the impact of its forthcoming European General Data Protection Regulation on health data generated by wearable devices and apps. As it stands, the EU’s position will stifle innovation and cost national health providers tens of billions of Euros.

The call comes after the company’s new study found a growing majority of people are happy for data such as heart rate, body temperature and sleep patterns to be used in medication recommendations and virtual consultations.

Set to come into law in 2018, the Regulation governs how organisations in Europe manage sensitive data. The definition for what constitutes health data currently encapsulates the type of information collected by wearables such as Fitbit, Apple Watch and health apps, potentially forcing it to be treated in the same strict manner reserved for medical records.

Osborne Clarke today calls for greater clarity after its new research questioned over 4,000 people from around Europe on their views on the topic. It found 55% of people would be happy for things such as heart rate, sleep patterns, exercise regimes and other information about their bodies to be used to recommend medication. In addition, 62% said they would like to be actively alerted if the data predicted a serious health issue.

The study also showed that future generations are particularly open to the idea of data-based healthcare. When questioned, 68% of 18-24 year olds said they would be happy to be alerted to health issues, with 62% were also happy to be recommended medication from their wearable or health app.
The research also found nearly 40% of people would prefer a virtual consultation based on such data, instead of having to attend a GP surgery. This rises sharply again in younger generations, with over half preferring to see their doctor over the Internet.

At a time when The Government is looking to find a £10bn budget surplus over the next 5 years, the NHS is predicted to be staring at an annual deficit of £2bn. This research shows that people are open to the idea of data-based healthcare, which could drive such cost savings, whilst also improving quality of life.

Smart use of health data is way more than just mapping heart rates and running distances, it can save lives if allowed to be used correctly. Unfortunately, the forthcoming legislation has the potential to nullify the potential of such technology by being overly restrictive.

Patient Talk interviewed Jon Fell and Dan Sung to find out more.

Patient Talk – So the first question I have here is what are the legal requirements for medical database collection at present?

Jon Fell – I think that’s a very interesting question because you have to look at the type of data that’s involved, so at the moment all of your health data is censored if personal data and the requirement is that you have to get informed consent from each individual to collect that data and use that data. Now in many respects that doesn’t change with the new data protection legislation that’s coming into force in 2018 the big difference is that it will apply to all data rather than just sensitive personal data so there is an issue with the data collected by your fitness trackers because is that medical data or is that biometric data or is that just sort of personal data regarding the number of steps you have taken and everything else but the rules now will be changed so you have to get explicit informed consent from the individual before you can collect that data and use that data.

Patient Talk– Ok and how does the Safe Harbor process impact upon data held in the U.S?

Jon Fell – I think the whole point with the Safe Harbor is that there has been a recent decision in the E.U where the Safe Harbor system is no longer to be relied upon so we are in a state of flux on how that’s going to work, what we do have with the E.U is that a number of ways which data can be transferred outside of the EEA, one of those rules is that you have to have a country which has a finding that has an adequate state of privacy that safe guards privacy within that country , now that doesn’t apply to the U.S so the way you would have to deal with in the U.S is something that is known as the ‘model clauses ‘ so it’s not impossible to transfer data to the U.S but you have to go through certain hoops and steps to deal with that but the whole positions which was the case that determined harbour doesn’t work , was a big big issue for the industry as a whole and I think it’s something that we just have to watch and base on how it’s going to sort itself out.

Patient Talk– Ok and what question should patients be asking their G.PS?

Jon Fell – So what we need to understand is what data and how is it going to be used so if you go into a clinical trial they get you to sign all sort of forms that say ‘this is the data we are going to collect and this is how we are going to use it with other researchers that that information is useful to their research, here’s how it’s going to anonymised ‘ then you need to understand what the data is going to be useful you shouldn’t be frightened by that because a lot of this data is actually going to make the whole healthcare and the way in which you are treated much more efficient and much better for you so it’s a question about being sensible about what is going to be collected, why is it going to be collected and who’s going to have access to it.

Patient Talk- And what access do people have to their own medical records and can they challenge any inaccuracies?

Sung – Well as far as I’m aware people can have access to their medical records but then often by their G.P’s they are not encouraged too, there’s something of an information based symmetry when you go to a G.P whereby they have your medical information on their screen facing them and your sort of kept at a distance from that but hopefully that will be changing soon, there’s a lot of virtual doctor services which will encourage you to take hold of your medical information and use it as you need.

Jon Fell – There are stories out there and real life examples of people accessing their medical records and finding flaws within the information that’s stored and it actually can be very difficult to get that changed , there is the argument that it’s not for you to determine whether is incorrect or not but when I was listening to the radio they was talking about this lady who had on her record that she had broken a leg but that was 3 years before she was even born so it is likely wrong but in actual fact they couldn’t change those records and refused to do so, now that’s something that I think has to be addressed but it’s a difficult one because you can’t just change a record to say ‘ I had a problem with X Y Z in the past ´ you need to be able to have on there for your own treatment in the future and for people to understand the true history of your records.

Patient Talk– Ok and what can you tell us about the new EU data protection legislation and what does it actually mean?

Jon Fell – So the European regulation which is the general data protection regulation, it should all be finalised by the end of this year and come into force by 2018, it is different to anything that we have at the moment because as a regulation it has direct effect and what we mean by that is that you don’t have to have any local or putting in place data protection regime it will all become from this regulation, the big changes from the point of view of uses of wearable technology and for health and everything else is that the level of consent for data protection has gone up o it has to be consent from an individual which is freely given , it has to be specific, it has to be informed and it has to explicit so you can longer rely on the fact that people have been provided information , continue to use the service , continue to use the device for that to be applied consent. The other thing that I find really interesting about it is that they have addressed some of the issues of the modern day in relation to the portability of data in particularly your ability to move your data from one provider to another which I think is actually in the context of wearables it’s quite a big step forward.

Patient Talk– Ok and how will this effect different countries such as Germany, Spain and Poland in particular?

Jon Fell – Well that’s the whole point of the regulation is to have harmonisation in all of the countries because it is a regulation and because it directly to all EU members in exactly the same way there should be exactly the same rules in every country, at the moment the one thing what we don’t have is harmonisation as there are lots of different rules in every single jurisdiction.

Patient Talk – Ok so what rights do we have now and how can they be improved?

Jon Fell – We have a number of rights which are to understand and be told what data is going to be collected, how it is going to be used, we also have a right to inspect that data and to look at what data is going to be collected and how it’s been processed now none of that really changes the big difference is that the obligation is being tightened on the person who collects that data to get proper consent at the very beginning to give you the right information at the right time and that’s where the difficulty lays particularly with wearable devices in that how do you get detailed information about someone at the point of which they are just about to use the device.

Carers could be using smartphone to help them organise support says government!

Healthcare and social media
Healthcare and social media
As readers will have noticed by now I’m fascinated by using technology to improve healthcare!

So I was presently surprised to discover the UK’s government actually doing something useful for once.

It seems caregivers could soon be using smart phones, email alerts and pop-up care centres to help them plan and co-ordinate formal and informal support. The ideas will be trialled as part of £1.6 million of pilot projects announced .

It seems that there are 5.4 million carers in England and 57.7% are women . Caring responsibilities fall most heavily on women aged 50-64 and 12.1% of women work full time alongside their caring responsibilities.

There are more than three million people who currently have work and family caring responsibilities. Giving them support to manage caring alongside paid work would benefit them and their families and give British businesses and the UK economy potential saving of up to £1.3 billion a year.

The nine pilot areas will explore how technology can be combined with professional support from the Local Authority and the assistance of informal networks of friends, neighbours and Time Bank volunteers to ease the pressure of caring. For example, one pilot will monitor cared for adults by telephone every day at an agreed time, then contact the carer by email or text to confirm that they do not need assistance.

The pilots will also explore how businesses can give employees with caring responsibilities more help, for example by promoting flexible working patterns and setting up carers ‘surgeries’. One pilot will also set up a pop up business school to help carers set up in self-employment.

There will be nine pilot sites across the country: North Tyneside; Northamptonshire; Cheshire West; Gateshead; Bury; North Somerset; South Gloucestershire; Staffordshire and Stoke; and Sefton.

Accident and Emergency crisis – is there an answer? Read our guest post from Zameel Panthakkalakath

Zameel Panthakkalakath
Zameel Panthakkalakath

As regular readers know one of the big interested of this blog is the use of social media and communications technology to improve patient care and outcome.  So we are delighted to present a guest post by Zameel Panthakkalakath which looks at the uses of smartphones as a way of dealing with the current A&E crisis.  What do you think?  Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

With hospitals reportedly at breaking point due to record numbers of emergency admissions, arguments rage about the root cause of the problems. And as the election approaches, chances of anything more than soundbyte analysis are becoming increasingly slim: apparently, with a sufficient dose of money and staff, all will be well.

What’s not well publicised is that in fact, spending on healthcare is continually increasing, and we’re not seeing the problems being solved. Public expenditure on the NHS doubled between 1997 and 2012, in real terms, yet we’re seeing increasingly poor value for money. The current A&E crisis is just one symptom of this. More cash will act as a sticking plaster providing temporary relief, but it won’t heal the underlying ailment – which is that healthcare delivery systems haven’t kept pace with advances in treatment capabilities and changes in demand. This makes for huge amounts of inefficiency and waste within the system, no matter how hard staff are working and how many hours they put in.

The good news is that the problems are fixable. By redesigning services and processes from scratch to reflect current day needs and incorporate new technologies, we can make resources go much, much further.

The A&E situation gives us some clues about where to start. In 2012-2013, 34.4% of patients visiting A& E received guidance/advice only. Before accusing people of going to A&E unnecessarily, it’s important to remember few people set off to spend hours in a hospital waiting room unless they are genuinely worried. What’s needed is a system that gives people practical alternatives. How many of these 6.3 million people could, for example, have been dealt with more quickly and cheaply had they been able to talk to a doctor over the phone or online?

Whilst some symptoms clearly need hands-on investigation, others do not. Computers and smartphones are bringing us a range of new ways to communicate that don’t require doctor and patient to be face-to-face in the same room. Ofcom figures, for example, show us that at the end of March 2013, 51% of UK adults owned a smartphone and that this rose rapidly over the year to reach a figure of 61% by the end of March 2014. Smartphones offer both internet access and the option to take and send high quality photos and video that doctors could be using for diagnosis.  A short phone or online consultation could very easily give people the information and reassurance they need at far less cost to the NHS than a visit to A&E would involve.

It’s time to look at radical infrastructure reforms that use resources more effectively and look forward to further advances rather than continuing to patch up old systems.  Reorganize the way we deal with non-emergency cases and we’ll achieve two very important goals. One, faster help for those non-emergency patients, and two, safer, high quality care from less pressurized emergency services for those who are in urgent need of hospital care.


Zameel Panthakkalakath is a healthcare entrepreneur and consultant committed to improving the patient experience through innovative healthcare delivery.

Having gained practical experience as a medical doctor earlier in his career, his focus is now on finding ways for healthcare services to improve efficiency and cut waste. He believes smartphone medical photography has a key role to play in this, as one of the many elements in emerging mobile health technologies.

He’s keen to share knowledge and help both patients and doctors make the most of the potential of smartphone photography for improved healthcare.

Connect with Zameel and iPhone Medical Photography:

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