Continuing Development of Accessibility Aids

Technology continues to improve in its support for those with special needs. I try to read as many articles as I can on the subject because I truly believe that computers offer the means to provide a level playing surface for everyone. I’ve posted a number of other times about improvements in technology that will eventually help people lead better lives, even when they have special requirements. As our population continues to age, this technology will also help older people in the population to continue making valuable contributions to society as a whole, so these technologies aren’t just for the few—everyone is affected at some point.

I read with interest a story about new bionic hand. The problem with any prosthetic limb is that it doesn’t provide feedback. Without touch, using a prosthetic is incredibly hard. You must be able to feel what is happening at the end of your arm. This new bionic hand does just that—it provides some level of feedback using the person’s own nervous system. I find this amazing because it would have been science fiction just a few years ago. I had previously written about the ability of someone to simply think about the motion required to perform a task in The Bionic Person, One Step Closer, but this is different. Not only can the person think about what to do, but they can also feel the activity when they do it. Of course, it isn’t anywhere near as useful as a real hand, but technology takes small steps forward.

This new hand isn’t permanent yet, nor are any of the other exciting technologies in the works right now. The biggest problem is that the electrodes used to communicate with the brain cause problems—essentially, the body rejects them. In addition, the prosthetic limbs have a long way to go before they become as usable as natural limbs. For example, a natural hand has 22 degrees of controls, while the best that a prosthetic limb can manage is seven.

Many of the technologies used to help people with visual problems have been temporary as well. However, a new bionic eye may change that. In this case, the eye is designed to help someone with a specific eye disease and they must still wear special glasses to make the modifications work. However, the eye implant is permanent in this case, which means that after surgery a person has a permanent change in their vision that they can count on using.

This truly is an exciting time because it’s slowly becoming possible to give people their lives back when something catastrophic happens. Many of the articles that I’ve read say that it will still take 20 or 30 years before science has developed limbs and other body parts that function as well as the real thing, but every advance made does help at least a little. What are your thoughts on the bionic person? Let me know at [email protected].