The Internet of Things (IoT) will soon be a major part of our work, home and social lives. For those living with a disability, it will help to make daily living more inclusive. Around a billion people currently have a disability, according to the World Health Organisation. This is approximately one in five people in the UK. Helping them play a more vital role in society isn’t just the right thing to do – it will boost the economy by a predicted 1.7 per cent (or £45 billion) if a million more disabled people could be helped to work.
Their home lives could become more independent too. Vodafone recently partnered with learning disability charity Mencap on a smart homes project to enhance the quality of life for those with learning disabilities. The IoT data collected via the 45 homes can also provide useful information for support workers to personalise each resident’s care. The connected devices are designed to help people with household tasks, time planning and socialising.
Smart home devices such as connected speakers, fridges, ovens and thermostats will help those who are less mobile, live self-sufficiently. They can control all devices and home functions through a single interface, for example. Blind people can use voice assistants such as Alexa to control their homes. Deaf individuals could be alerted to alarms or visitors at the door through smart lights and video systems.
Safety outside of the home
Outside of the home, sensors in pavements, roads and streetlights can help protect and guide disabled people. Crosswalk is a Dutch IoT system that embeds sensors in traffic lights. Connected to an app, it senses when elderly or disabled individuals are waiting to cross the road. When the lights do change, they remain on the pedestrian green man signal for longer to give disabled people more time to cross the road safely.
For visually impaired individuals, a host of technology is being developed. Google has made its Cloud Vision API accessible to developers, to help them create apps and IoT devices through its image recognition algorithms. This will give greater context to what a device ‘sees’ around it and feedbacks to a user – through smart glasses, embedded neural implants, earphones, apps and haptic devices.
Helping the deafblind to work
The IoT will even help the 1.5 million people worldwide who are deaf and blind. They communicate using tactical alphabets, pressing or pinching different parts of their hand to represent various letters. Special gloves can translate this into electronic signals that are recognised by devices and computers – empowering deafblind individuals to work, study, get online, operate their homes and use smartphones.
Creating an inclusive world
Much potential will be unlocked by the IoT, helping to bridge the disability gap and create a more inclusive society. It holds many use cases across the spectrum of disability, from wearables that augment visual and hearing impairments, to smart home devices that assist with learning disabilities. To achieve this, IoT developers must include disabled people in the design of the technology. Only they can give a true idea of how an IoT device can help them. Together with the IoT, we can create a better world for everyone.
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