Assistive technology for children with disabilities

Bs Glove Render Cropped

It sounds like something from a sci-fi film: a black glove that is able to read and interpret sign language as one’s fingers and hands move. But as London inventor Hadeel Ayoub demonstrates, her BrightSign glove understands what she has written in the air. After signing, Ayoub pushes a button on her wrist and a small speaker relays “Let’s Dance”. This is just one example of assistive technology that more than two billion people may need by 2050, according to the World Health Organization.

Ayoub said she “is driven by a desire to create a world where disabilities become meaningless.” Companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft are also trying to harness the power of artificial intelligence to create things to make the lives of those with disabilities ones full of abilities. And Microsoft and Google have offered a combined $45 million in grants to developers of assistive technologies to help them bring the products to market. (Assistive technology is defined as “any light-, mid-, or high-tech tool or to special versions of already existing technologies or tools that provide enhancements or different ways of interacting with the technology.”And assistive technology is considered a type of adaptive technology, which is defined “as special versions of already existing technologies or tools that provide enhancements or different ways of interacting with the technology. The adaptation helps individuals with a disability or impairment accomplish a specific task with greater ease and independence,” according to the University of Missouri Adaptive Commuting Technology Center.)  

Besides this year’s gloves, other products being brought to market or already available include Microsoft’s 2017 free “Seeing AI” app that turns a smart phone into a talking camera that helps visually impaired people do things such as scan and read aloud text, recognize faces and identify products bar codes; the AngelSense non-removable GPS tracker and application that was created to keep special needs children from wandering, bullying and mistreatment (and AngelSense’s customer care team is comprised solely of parents of special needs children); and a variety Text to Speech (TTS) products that includes the Intel Reader, which is highly mobile, and Kurzweil 3000 software, which supports 18 languages, has a 40,000 image dictionary, takes a multi-sensory approach to literacy learning and works on Macs or PCs. 

Origins Instruments offers a range of Sip and Puff products that may be easier for some wheelchair bound children with motor control challenges to use than an adaptive switch. The Sip and Puff tube, on a gooseneck or on a headset, can work on speech generating devices, computers, tablets, mobile phones and environmental controls. 

And for children with dyslexia and other learning disorders, Ginger software (which was designed with speakers whose primary language isn’t English in mind) has an accurate grammar checker, a sentence rephraser and TTS functionality so students can hear what they’ve written. Ginger also offers personal trainers to help people improve their English, and they offer translation capabilities into 50 languages. 

Similarly, Ghotit was designed as a writing and reading assistant especially for students with dyslexia and dysgraphia. Ghotit makes both software and mobile apps. Their website says, “We, the founders of Ghotit, have lived with dyslexia and dysgraphia our whole lives. Ghotit was developed with the promise to assist us, the dyslexic community:

  • All of us who suffer from dyslexia, dysgraphia and that need to overcome on a daily basis our writing and/or reading problems.
  • All of us who suffer from dyslexia and that are challenged with reading English text such as a website page or document.
  • All of us who suffer from dysgraphia and that are familiar with the frustration of producing terribly spelled text even after investing a lot of time and effort in correcting the text.”

Or, if your child has a learning disability that includes dyscalculia, which makes it difficult to grasp numbers and math, MathTalk was created to be speech recognition software to help students solve anything from pre-Algebra to Ph.D. level mathematics. Students with blindness or vision impairments can use MathTalk as it has an integrated Braille translator. And MathTalk has math worksheets that help students organize, align and work through problems on the screen, which may help students who have problems figuring out problems on paper.  

Other inventions that look to empower those with disabilities premiered in 2018 at Aggies Invent for Assistive Technology (at Texas A&M University) and are looking for funding for manufacturing and distribution. These inventions include a prototype of a hands-free door opener that works from voice commands given to a phone that then unlatches, opens and closes the door; a fully-functioning real-time captioning system for people who are hearing impaired; and a task management system for users with cognitive disorders.  

More locally, in summer 2018, Penn State’s Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Augmentative and Alternative Communication (RERC on AAC) hosted the national conference on the topic of AAC as part its five-year federal grant from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research, and its mission to conduct research, development, training and dissemination to improve outcomes for individuals who require AAC. If you have a child who needs augmented communication devices, go to to see what Penn State is doing. 

Author: Jill L. Ferguson