For people with disabilities (PwD), technology offers both unprecedented opportunity and tremendous frustration. In theory, modern technology can allow PwD to participate in social life, control their homes, pursue education, and lead meaningful careers in ways never before possible, yet 90% of PwD report not having access to necessary assistive devices. For those who do, the harsh reality is that these devices often cost thousands of dollars, are incompatible with the tech they want to use, and seem more like low-tech relics of decades past than the sleek smartphones and voice assistants on the market today. And yet, technology has reached a point where most access needs could be solved through creative engineering. The biggest barrier to access is no longer technical feasibility, but instead finding sufficient engineering resources to allocate to a given solution.
For instance, a child with SMA might think, "Flying a drone is impossible with this tiny thumbstick - if only I could use my wheelchair joystick instead!" With the right resources this idea is theoretically achievable: over a few months a skilled hobbyist could reverse-engineer the protocols for the drone and wheelchair joystick, design a custom circuit board to interface the two, design and 3D print a case to mount to the wheelchair, and develop a smartphone app to manage the controls. Unfortunately, most PwD do not have access to these engineering resources, and have far more needs than can be addressed if each solution takes several months and thousands of dollars.
We are addressing the digital divide facing people with disabilities by providing a scalable and adaptive open platform which will enable users of all abilities to connect to consumer technology in ways suited to their personal needs. Our goal is to empower people with disabilities by giving them the tools to be independent, connect with others, seek and retain education and employment, and contribute to society both economically and socially.
What this looks like in practical use is someone who uses a wheelchair can now connect their joystick to their PlayStation and play games online with their friends and use the switches on their headrests to open doors and activate lights. Plus, they can find new devices like drones, robots, and productivity tools that they want to use, and control them with their own devices instead of proprietary inputs that do not adapt to their needs. This means that PwD can now control all of the technology in their homes, schools, and offices.
By creating an interface that allows people with disabilities to use any and all forms of technology in a way that works for them, they can have not only access to technology, but access to other people. Access to technology--in our tech-dominated age--means access to people, relationships, and community. It builds bridges for people who are often isolated.