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


The Bionic Person, One Step Closer

When The Six Million Dollar Man first arrived on the scene in January of 1974, most people thought it was simply another science fiction television show. The addition of The Bionic Woman in January 1976 was just more good entertainment. The only problem is that these shows really aren’t just entertainment anymore. I’ve already discussed the use of exoskeletons to help those who have lost use of their legs in Exoskeletons Become Reality. No, none of the people using these devices can run 60 mph or make incredible leaps—that part is still science fiction, but I’m beginning to wonder for how long. (Just in case you’re interested, there is also a bionic arm in the works.) Today I read an article entitled, “Australians implant ‘world first’ bionic eye” that appears to take the next step in the use of bionics with humans. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that these things would happen when I originally wrote Accessibility for Everybody. I’m happy that they have !

Of course, the bionic eye of today is quite limited. Early bionic eyes have relied on a camera built into a pair of glasses to help someone see. You need a lot of hardware to make these eyes work and the best you can hope to achieve in many cases is to see light and dark. The part I find interesting about this new bionic eye is that the apparatus is actually inserted into the person’s living eye on top of the retina (yes, you still need the glasses, but just for the camera part of the technology)! This is a true innovation because it means that we’re headed in the direction of bionics becoming nearly impossible to detect. Once this technology leaves the laboratory, the doctors envision the person being able to see a 1,024 × 1,024 image. OK, that’s not HDTV standard, but it’s a lot better than someone who is blind has today.

In many respects, the technology advances we’re seeing today are both amazing and a bit scary at the same time. Scientists are literally probing every element of the human body, discovering how they work well enough to help people live better lives, and then using technology to fill in the gaps. I see a time coming when no one will have to suffer with a devastating loss that significantly limits the enjoyment of life. What do you think about the coming of the real bionic person? How far do you think this technology might go? Let me know your thoughts at