The Growing Field of Assistive Technology

Ferhan PatelEarlier this week, a young boy by the name of Zion Harvey was the first child to successfully receive a bilateral hand transplant. While this news is extremely encouraging to those who are missing limbs, it is also a huge leap in the medical community and hopefully indicative of even more developments in the field to come. Interestingly enough, this advancement in transplant surgery comes at a time when assistive technology for disabled individuals is also on the rise. Startups like Open Bionics have found a way to create a bionic limb using 3D scanning and printing at a fraction of the traditional cost, in less than a week. The Guardian recently published an article highlighting different companies that are helping to expand this burgeoning field.

Constance Agyeman, who manages the Inclusive Technology Prize claims that assistive technology can potentially,

“transform the level of dignity and independence that disabled people experience in their everyday lives,”

but that current solutions are often times very costly and too narrow in their focus.

Encouraging Innovation

Although this developing area of assistive technologies is still young, some well-known companies are providing resources to people looking to bring their solutions to market. Google launched a campaign that concludes at the end of September entitled “Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities”. This campaign is part of a $20 million grant program that supports the development of these kinds of technologies.

Virgin Media announced a £1 million partnership with Scope, a charity concerned with disability. This new partnership allows the experts at Scope to work in conjunction with Virgin Media’s internal innovations team. The collaboration between these two entities means that Scope will have access to Virgin’s existing assistive technologies and funding. This increase in capital ensures Scope’s ability to effectively distribute both information and training around assistive technologies currently used by the four schools run by Scope.

According to Jaime Purvis, an expert at the Digital Accessibility Centre, a non-profit that focuses on digital inclusion,

“There’s more being done now than three or four years ago, but it’s still not as widespread as it could be … There are a lot of [disabled] people being left behind because they don’t have access to the hardware that tech companies are creating”

Purvis believes that the best way to generate activity and gain the support of tech companies behind this mission of closing that gap is to stress the market potential posed by inclusive assistive technologies.


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