Archive for September, 2017

Living with a Disability

Thursday, September 28th, 2017

I have a hidden, albeit temporary, disability that affects almost everything I do in daily life. My concussion has limited my abilities to read, exercise and socialize for the past five months. I am much improved now, but over the summer, managing my concussion took over my life, as I couldn’t walk, read, or talk to anyone without feeling very dizzy. Stuck in bed, it was often challenging to think of ways to pass the time. Many concussion guides online have great tips to cope with a concussion, but the paradox lies in that concussion patients don’t even have the capacity to go online and access those resources. These concussion guides also have very real stories and medical tips that can help a patient cope psychologically and thus heal faster – if only the patient could read them. I didn’t even know about Android’s TalkBack feature, which allows blind patients to use their phone. Such a feature could have saved me some agony and given me access to the online world, helping me in both medical and psychological ways. My point in writing this post is not to elicit sympathy, but to draw attention to the fact that not only is it important to make assistive technology, but to also make it accessible to those who need it. This includes the dissemination of information (ie making concussion guides available as books), or adequately publicizing technology so that those who are disabled can know about their options. Oftentimes, assistive technology seems to be purposefully hidden, which parallels the effect to which society attempts to hide their disabled individuals. Hopefully one day, assistive technology can be as public and glorified as technology for healthy individuals.

Changing the World for Countries in Need

Wednesday, September 27th, 2017

While the technical nitty-gritty of engineering does not spark passion in me, the ability to create something to help others keeps me motivated to find solutions. Since arriving to MIT, I have found it incredibly difficult to find my calling. Despite numerous failures, one thing that I have known I have always wanted to do is help people. Taking assistive technologies was a purposeful dive in to change the lives of someone in need. In pursuit of medical school, I would like to succeed in creating tangible change in the lives of someone who needs it medically.

One incredible article that I read over the summer that inspired me further to take this class was one on Economic Times about a start up working to improve the efficiency of blind people’s sensory input. Since blind people read braille and rely heavily on sound in their day-to-day, a tech startup called Tellmate, created smart glasses to read and translate words and images into sound for blind people. India has the world’s largest blind population and this product can change their lives.

Reading this story, combined with the thought process we have been taught in PPAT, I have gained perspective on how to go about changing the developing world with assistive technology. Rather than brainstorming products, it is necessary to determine where there are problems, assess what those problems are, and then explore a strategy to remedy that problem.

I am excited to carry out the design process for Team Jim, and potentially move on to widespread issues in developing parts of the world that need technological solutions.

Assistive Technology Beyond 2017

Wednesday, September 27th, 2017

“World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 285 million people are visually impaired worldwide. Another 360 million people globally suffer from hearing loss. Over 70 million people use a wheelchair.” As we rapidly innovate in each coming year, there also continue to be a significant portion of the population that is unable to access services in the same capacity. Assistive technology provides the ability to facilitate more universal access to the various opportunities encountered in life.

I was reading an article on some of the future innovations. One was a touch-less screen in which eye and head movement tracking would direct navigation for those without the ability to use their hands properly. Another allowed a person using a wheelchair to roll directly up a ramp into a car and begin driving using hand-controls. Another product is actually an exoskeleton that reduces physical exertion in the bending and picking heavy objects up for construction and blue-collar workers.There can be several technologies created to serve as a preventative for physcial strain and damage. It’s exciting to think of future prospects for some many as innovations continue to come.

The Capacity for Human Adaptability

Saturday, September 23rd, 2017

While human beings have become more accepting and understanding toward people with disabilities, there is still a stigma associated with being disabled. Many people are unsure how to deal with people with disabilities, view them as less than complete, and even think they must be miserable due to their conditions. As a result, many baby or patronize them in situations where it is unnecessary or even offensive. What has been made clear by many people with disabilities is that they want to be treated like everyone else, not just because it makes them feel good, but because many do everything they can to overcome and adapt to their disability. The human body and mind has an incredible capacity to adapt, and some who face the great adversity of disability adopt a mindset that allows them to pursue their goals and lead normal lives in spite of their disabilities. The speaker we had come to us two lectures ago uses a wheelchair, but does not let it define him. Rather, he has had an immense impact on the lives of other people who live with disabilities, educates many on how to treat people with disabilities, and has proven that despite his condition, he is able to live a life of excellence. He recounted stories to us of a female friend who is on a respirator, missing limbs, who has advanced to executive positions in her career through her grit and refusal to be defined by her disability. With the aid of assistive technology, people with disabilities have been able to actualize their resiliency to succeed, and because of this, there is no need for any of us to look at or treat them differently; many of them can do everything we can and more.


Assistive Technology in the Developing world

Monday, September 18th, 2017

Assistive technology is a very interesting point for me as I am looking towards doing work in the developing world. One of the major pains in the developing world in countries such as Nigeria is infrastructurally they are much further behind than counterparts in the developed world. Being behind in 2017 though affords Africa an opportunity to build infrastructure and technology that optimizes for disabled people. At the same time, the more nascent societies can implement guidelines and laws that correspond with the infrastructure that is being built.

Society and infrastructure can cater to disabled people by providing wide access to the technology and investing in modern design structures that optimize for disabled people. As an example, while in Nigeria I saw dozens of young and old people with lame legs due to polio affliction. They were forced to navigate around on boards with wheels. Having to navigate at the height of a skateboard certainly looked challenging. Wheelchairs are technology that these folks should have access to. And there is a lack of well-paved sidewalks in many residential and business areas. As these are being built, they should take care to optimize for those with disabilities.

Societal View of Disability

Saturday, September 16th, 2017

I find the view of people with disabilities in society as a very complex concept. PPAT is the second class I have taken that explores the different opinions groups of people have on disability and what it means to be a person with a disability in our modern world. The other class that delved into this exploration was bioethics. Before I entered into the bioethics class, I definitely viewed disability as a negative thing – as a problem that someone has that ideally should be fixed as soon as possible. After reading many papers in the bioethics class and even the initial papers in the PPAT class, it’s clear that not all people hold that same sentiment. Some people believe their disabilities are a part of who they are and they don’t wish to be changed, or for example they don’t want their child to receive a hearing aid at birth because they want their child to be primarily part of the deaf culture. Others just feel like being different is not better or worse. It is therefore also difficult sometimes to communicate about disability because you have to be careful to keep all these different perspectives in mind. I personally align more with the idea that for those who want, science and engineering should work to create “fixes” for disabilities – for example better hearing aids and vision enhancement – but I am now much more sensitive to understanding that many people don’t want to be viewed as needing “fixing,” and it’s more about providing people with disability a way to make their life easier than to inherently repair anything about them.


Blog by Riana Hoagland