By Fraser Sensory Supports and Training Manager Gina Brady and Pam Dewey • assistive technology, assistive personal care tools, accessible, accessible personal care tools, accessibility, adaptive tools, adaptive products, adaptive personal care, adaptive technology, adaptive technology for disabled people, disability, disabled people, people with disability • February 16, 2023
When you hear the term assistive technology, you might picture a speech-generating device or an electric wheelchair. But not all assistive technology has a microchip. Everyone has encountered a wheelchair ramp. You’re also likely familiar with braille and grab bars in restrooms. According to Closing the Gap, “Assistive technology is any accommodation provided that compensates a cognitive or physical deficit for people with disabilities by providing equal access to information, tasks or activities.” Here are a few assistive technology devices that can make day-to-day living easier for people with disabilities.
Some people with intellectual disabilities or neurodivergence struggle with executive functioning, so tasks like getting ready in the morning are challenging. Creating a picture schedule of a morning routine can help with executive functioning challenges. Consider including tasks like brushing teeth, taking a shower, putting on clean clothes, packing a lunch, eating breakfast and getting to the bus stop on time. Use a photo or image for each part of the story. Include a simple caption with the photo, describing the image in a few sentences. A picture schedule helps increase your, or your loved one’s, independence and participation. It also lets your loved one know what’s happening next, which can make transitions easier and less stressful.
Grocery cart for disabled children and adults
Caroline’s Cart helps caregivers and parents of people in wheelchairs simplify their shopping trips. According to Closing the Gap, Caroline’s Cart is a shopping cart that “provides parents and caregivers a viable option to transport a child through a store while grocery shopping, without having the impossible task of having to maneuver a wheelchair and a traditional grocery cart at the same time.” The shopping cart features a large seat on the front with “a harness to help secure a person from 35 lbs. to 250 lbs., which means it can also accommodate adults with disabilities. Drew Ann Long created the cart for her disabled daughter, Caroline, after she realized “her daughter would outgrow a typical shopping cart.” She worked to make the adapted grocery cart available at retailers across the country, so other families could access it. Technibilt is the manufacturer of the adapted cart, and here’s a listing of Minnesota retailers who offer the cart.
Automated nail clipper
Clip Different is an adaptive nail care tool for people with sensory needs, cognitive needs, arthritis, limb differences and many other life experiences. According to their website, it’s an “automated nail clipper” that lets you “place, trim, and go.” The founder Tom McMullen Jr. created the product after “his wife Trudy was diagnosed with progressive health issues, and Tom searched for ways to make her life easier.” Creating an easy-to-use nail clipper was one of Tom’s solutions.
Adaptive makeup products
Guide Beauty was founded by makeup artist Terri Bryant, after she began to lose dexterity in her hands. She was later diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Guide’s makeup products are designed for ease of use for people with disabilities. The mascara features a “patent pending GUIDE Ring [which] steadies the hand for comfortable, mess-free swiping.” The guide ring is similar to a phone popsocket. The eyeliner also features “a replaceable, soft and flexible precision tip applicator that’s gentle on the eyes” with an “easy-to-hold handle that steadies the hand.” Guide also sells a variety of makeup brushes with wider handles and their guide ring. You can also find longer-handled makeup brushes and sponges at various retailers.
Blow dryer stand and other hair tools
For people with unsteady hands, missing limbs or paralysis, hands-free blow dryer stands can simplify hairstyling. Clip your blow dryer into the stand to dry your hair without using your hands. Dyson Airwrap styler is also a good solution for people with limited hand mobility. The Dyson website states, “By combining powerful airflow and controlled heat, the Dyson Airwrap multi-styler can style and dry at the same time.” The airwrap eliminates the need for both styling tools, and you only need one hand to use it. However, the Dyson is expensive. You can find less costly versions here.
An adjustable-height desk or table is helpful for wheelchair users, so they can easily slide their wheelchair under the furniture. These furniture items usually feature hydraulic lifts that you can adjust by lifting or cranking up or down. An adjustable-height desk can also help people with low vision, as raising the surface of the desk can make it easier to see items on the desktop. For sensory seekers, an adjustable desk may be a good option, so they can move their bodies while studying or working.
Water flossers are small, hand-held devices that spray water to clean between your teeth. Fraser Sensory Supports and Training Manager Gina Brady says water flossers are a great tool for people who have difficulty using standard floss, whether due to dexterity, coordination or sensory sensitivities. Water flossers make cleaning teeth easier and can increase an individual’s independence.
Apps and smart glasses
Many companies are using smartphone video technology to support people who are blind or have low vision. According to the Be My Eyes website, “Be My Eyes is a free app for receiving video support at a moment’s notice. Every day, sighted volunteers and professionals lend their eyes to solve tasks big and small to help blind and low-vision people lead more independent lives.” The services are available 24 hours a day in more than 180 languages.
Two other assistive technology companies — Envision and Aira — have recently partnered to improve their vision assistance offerings. Forbes states, “Netherlands-based Envision makes a smartphone app that is integrated with Google Glass enabling blind users to receive audio descriptions of objects or text that the camera is pointing at using computer vision, AI or video calls with sighted guides. California-based Aira provides a professional visual interpretation service that connects blind or severely sight-impaired users to a remote operator via the Aira app for scene and object description or directions.” By partnering with Aira, people can now use the Aira remote operators for sighted guidance assistance, instead of relying on friends and family members. This provides greater independence for blind and low-vision people. It also allows Aira users to access Envision’s Google glasses technology, which offers greater flexibility and ease of use for guidance assistance. The Envision website states, “From handwritten notes to newspapers, books and magazines, read any kind of text in over 60 languages, download, and save to enjoy at your own pace.”
Smart devices and apps
Amazon Alexa and Apple’s Siri allow people with disabilities to access information by simply asking a question. You can also automate things, like getting verbal notifications when your Amazon package arrives or creating a morning routine, which could include setting an alarm, listening to a weather and traffic report, getting reminders about upcoming meetings and receiving a news update. You can also control things like smart lights and thermostats with your voice.
You can also set up voice control on your iPhone, so you can tell your phone to take a screenshot, open an app, take a picture or turn up the volume. Or, you can have your iPhone read text to you through the Spoken Content feature.
If you have non-standard speech, an app can help you access voice commands for Alexa or Apple products. The app Voiceitt “learns your speech patterns to understand what you’re saying” and “then you can use the app to assist you in conversations, for transcribing speech to text…and you can even use it for live captioning during video calls.” You can also integrate Voiceitt with Alexa, Android phones, iPhones, iPads and a PC.
Assistive technology can be as simple as pictures of a morning routine or as tech-savvy as wearing Google glasses to connect with remote operators for sighted guidance assistance. In either case, assistive technologies provide people with disabilities with more independence and let them navigate the world more easily.