Better Life With Technology
There are more than one billion disabled people in the world and they make up 15% of the world’s population (McClain-Nhlapo). Not all of them have significant disabilities, but whatever happens, they have disabilities. Disabled people face many problems in their lives, as examples: paraplegic people are having hard times climbing stairs because most places don’t have a disabled lift, visually impaired people are having hard times walking in the streets due to obstacles on the sidewalk, or hearing impaired people have difficulty explaining themselves and understanding other people because few people know sign language. Many hearing-impaired people have problems with communication. Because they have a disability, they can not call someone and talk. They have to go outside and spend time (sometimes also money) to contact another person (Lersilp et al. 3). In some urgent cases, they have to get help from a person who can hear to explain their issue to the other person through the phone and this situation creates inequality in society, and it causes people to look at disabled people with pity and contempt (Dobie).
Apps like Welcome which “allow people to communicate any special needs they have before they arrive at a business” (Murray) or personal voice assistants developed in recent years are trying to eliminate this inequality and make disabled people feel more involved with the community. They are as human as non-disabled people and they need equal access to life than for people to pity them. This literature review examines the technological inventions that remove discrimination for disabled people in society. Additionally, it illustrates how accessible technological devices are to every member of society.
Better Daily Life Opportunities:
Technology has been developed and is continually developing. Information technology (IT) devices are allowing IT to surf the internet, text people, create online lessons, etc. Most IT like telephones, earphones, and VR glasses were designed for use by people who do not have any disabilities. But disabled people are also using these technologies to make their lives easier and overcome their impairment (Lersilp et al. 10). They can “read messages instead of listening, use vibrating instead of voice signals and communicate with sign language via video calling instead of talking” (Lersilp et al. 10). In addition, a questionnaire done with deaf people shows that they are leveraging face-to-face conversation applications known as assistive technology 44.79% more than hearing people (Lersilp et al. 7). But also it indicates Thai Telecommunication Relay Service apps are not popular even though they are specifically developed for disabled people (Lersilp et al. 7). This situation can occur because specifically designed products can be much more expensive than normal products and also most disabled people don’t know about these products because they’re not advertised enough. My brother Cemil Yılmaz lost his vision in childhood in an accident. When I told him about technologies like WeWalk, his response was “I did not hear about any of these... I’m using the apps like Siri which was not specifically for disabled people because I was not aware of technologies specifically designed for us” (Yılmaz).
Developers are making these technologies, but are they considering the disabilities enough while designing and advertising? Or should they consider it at all? Apple’s personal assistant technology, Siri, is helping visually impaired people by allowing them to control a telephone with voice commands, but on the official website of Apple, no information about Siri's ability to help disabled people is given. Most developers like Apple don’t think about disabled people, but they should have specifically considered disabilities in order to eliminate disparity (Robert-Yates et al.). Zoom developers, for example, designed a very simple app which is easy to use and requires the least amount of effort for online education. Unfortunately, these basic standards are not enough for disabled people. A deaf employee whose company works on Zoom can not work in equal standards with other employees because the standard Zoom app does not support captions in any language except English ("Closed Captioning"). They have to use third-party services to provide captions in different languages, which original developers had not done.
In the old times, while abled people were using technology in their daily lives, disabled people thought the technology was unreachable for them (Bolger). There were no features in these technologies to help the disabled, neither the personal assistants nor the dictation of our phones. Blind people were using a white cane to walk and walking with a stick was not an easy task (Murray). However, with the inventions of smart white canes, companies reached thousands of disabled people over 37 countries to make them fully independent with obstacle detection, accessible navigation, and smart city solutions (WeWalk-YGA).
Equal Education with Non-Disabled People:
Throughout the evolution of technology, researchers developed innovations like socially-assistive robots which “entails the design and implementation of machines (robots) that aid humans through social interaction” (Robert-Yates et al. 199), and immersive educational virtual reality which “can be customized to the student’s needs, with the potential to increase or reduce stimulus and distractions'' (Robert-Yates et al. 200) to help people with disabilities. These technologies allow disabled people to participate in the classroom as normal students.
Assistive technologies like a technological glove which translates the sign language to a robotic voice or a helmet which uses cameras and brain neurons to visualize objects allow people with disabilities to participate, visualize and understand the lesson content better (Potier). As Rathnakumar indicates, “[f]or children with disabilities, technology can provide access to learning opportunities previously closed to them” (Rathnakumar 10). According to the results of Lersilp’s questionnaire, “55.96% of students think IT facilitates the learning domain for them” (Lersilp et al. 8), which supports Rahtnakumar's ideas.
(Assistive technologies that were developed and are ready to use: The CloudMinds Meta helmet and the sign language glove, (Potier))
Accessibility to the Technology:
As time progresses, technology is entering more and more into people’s lives and can respond specifically to the needs of people. We can see autonomous vehicles which allow blind people to use a car just like people who have normal vision, Google sign language robots which change the sign language to voice, smart speakers with a personal assistant and etc. (Murray). There are many technologies in the world, but affording them is another issue. In her writing, Natasha Bolger says “[f]ortunately, there are now some admirable pieces of technology for disabled people that are easier to use than ever”. However on the other side, Lersilp contradicts Bolger’s idea by giving an example from Thailand: Scientists and computer engineers made Telecommunication Device for the Deaf (TDD) which enabled the communication between hearing and deaf people, but it is only known in Thailand and is “not widespread because it is very expensive” (Lersilp 3).
As time passes by, the market status changes. As more companies like Apple, Samsung, and LG join the race of selling products, the high level of this competition in the domestic digital market “creates a continuous reduction of price, and this enables people with low-incomes to access mobile devices” (Lersilp et al. 3). The percentage of Internet access for people with disabilities increased from 18% to nearly 60% in 11 years (Lissitsa et al. 1) because of the reduction in the digital market. By making assistive technologies available for entire communities, both businesses and disabled people get the benefit (Murray). However, the 42% increase is not enough to eliminate the disparity. Many disabled people still can not reach these technologies. Cemil Yılmaz grew up in and still lives in a village in Hatay. He earns a small amount of money which is just enough to meet his essential needs by selling the products of his field. He has a 95% percent vision loss and he uses a simple white cane to walk, pick fruits, and do his daily activities. When I told him about the new technologies that were developed specifically for him, he was so happy to hear that he can now use new products which can help him. But then when I informed him about the prices, he said: “nevermind, I was happy in vain. It is impossible for me to buy those products with this money” (Yılmaz).
As non-disabled people, we find it very normal to walk on the street freely, do online lessons, and be among people with no judgment. But for disabled people, none of these are easy. They have to get help from technology or other people to be able to do “normal” things. Every day, researchers announce new technologies that allow people with disabilities to overcome obstacles such as stairs without ramps or high pavements that are made without considering their needs. For example, a GPS integrated bag for blind people can get information about the environment and warn its user, or a stair-climbing wheelchair can allow paraplegic people to climb the stairs without any human help. With these technologies, a disabled person can feel “more involved in the community, the disparity between me and other people is reduced” (Goncagül and Sarıkaya). However, these technologies do not represent anything if they are unreachable to the community. A simple smartphone can be an assistive technology but when we look at the prices, it is near to 13 thousand liras in Turkey. Because of these prices, most of the members of the disabled community can not buy these telephones and remove the difficulties. As Hakan Sarıkaya who works in Dialogue in the Dark said: “It doesn't matter how much technology has been developed for us, what matters is how much we can reach them.”
Bolger, Natasha. "The Benefits of Technology for Disabled People." Disabled Living, 8 July 2019, www.disabledliving.co.uk/blog/benefits-of-technology-for-disabled-people/. Accessed 17 Mar. 2021.
"Closed Captioning and Live Transcription." Zoom, support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/207279736-Closed-captioning-and-live-transcription#:~:text=Sign%20in%20to%20the%20Zoom%20mobile%20app.&text=Tap%20Meeting.,the%20bottom%20of%20the%20screen. Accessed 29 Mar. 2021.
Dobie, Robert A. Hearing Loss: Determining Eligibility for Social Security Benefits. Edited by Susan B. Van Hemel, National Academies Press, 2005. NCBI, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK207836/. Accessed 19 Mar. 2021.
Goncagül, Nilay and Harun Sarıkaya. Videoconference interview. 30 Mar. 2021.
Lersilp, Suchitporn, and Theeratorn Lersilp. "Use of Information Technology for Communication and Learning in Secondary School Students with a Hearing Disability." Education Sciences, 14 Mar. 2019. ERIC, files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1211901.pdf. Accessed 17 Mar. 2021.
Lissitsa, Sabina, and Galit Madar. Do Disabilities Impede the Use of Information and Communication Technologies? Findings of a Repeated Cross-Sectional Study – 2003-2015. Israel Journal of Health Policy Research, 26 Oct. 2018. BMC, ijhpr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13584-018-0260-x#citeas. Accessed 24 Mar. 2021.
Mayclin, Danni. "Computer and Technology Use in Education Buildings Continues to Increase." EIA, U.S. Energy Information Administration, 3 Feb. 2016, www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=24812. Accessed 22 Mar. 2021.
McClain-Nhlapo, Charlotte. "Disability Inclusion." The World Bank, World Bank Group, www.worldbank.org/en/topic/disability#1. Accessed 19 Mar. 2021.
Murray, Sandy. "How Smart Tech Could Transform Disabled People's Lives." BBC, 26 Dec. 2019, www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-scotland-business-49989347. Accessed 17 Mar. 2021.
Potier, Laura. "New Tech to Help Disabled People." The Guardian, 8 Sept. 2019, www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/sep/08/the-five-technology-to-help-disabled-people-blindness-paralysis-research-ai. Accessed 29 Mar. 2021.
Rathnakumar, D. "Enhancement of Learning Science among Students with Mild Intellectual Disability Employing Accessible Technology: Feasible or a Challenge?" Shanlax, 17 Mar. 2019, pp. 9-14. ERIC, files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1245146.pdf. Accessed 17 Mar. 2021.
Roberts-Yates, Christine, and David Silvera-Tawil. "Better Education Opportunities for Students with Autism and Intellectual Disabilities through Digital Technology." International Journal of Special Education, 2019, pp. 197-210. ERIC, files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1237141.pdf. Accessed 17 Mar. 2021.
"YGA - Visual Accessibility." YGA, www.yga.org.tr/en/visually-impaired-technologies. Accessed 19 Mar. 2021.
Yılmaz, Cemil. Interview. 28 Mar. 2021.