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Tech Companies Expanding Accessibility Services


Nearly one in five individuals today report having a disability, but this number will rise as the baby boomer generation ages. To help this atrisk population address the lack of accessibility in the disability community, many experts have turned to technology. Tech companies have entered into this market that represents $1 trillion in annual disposable income.

Google’s recent update to Google Maps allows individuals to now select a wheelchair accessible route. It is tailored towards the use of public transportation in select major metropolitan areas. These hubs include London, New York, Tokyo, Mexico City, Boston and Sydney. It includes information such as the availability of wheelchair ramps and elevators on the proposed route. This rollout is on top of Google’s previous update that allowed users to see if a location was wheelchair accessible.

Airbnb has also made it easier to find accessible rentals. Partnering with organizations like the National Council on Independent Living and the California Council of the Blind, they have released 21 filters that can help locate a rental that fits a person’s exact accessibility needs. The filters let people search for features like ramps, wide hallways and roll-in-showers. Airbnb plans to continually improve and expand the functionality of these filters. 

AI Increasing Independence for People of all Abilities 

Artificial intelligence (AI) has become ubiquitous in the conversation about the power of technology to change lives. It also is being applied to help seniors and individuals with disabilities live more independently. The possibilities are endless for a technology as robust as AI to positively impact the lives of people of all ages and abilities.

Today, 5.7 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s and that number is expected to more than double to 14 million by 2050. AI is showing promise in being able to identify the disease before the symptoms are obvious to loved ones. Machine learning is being adapted to look at movement patterns like pacing and wandering which are indicative of Alzheimer’s. The technology, developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, is being tested in an assisted living facility in the state. MIT developed an unobtrusive small white box that uses wireless radio signals no stronger than Wi-Fi. These signals bounce off  everything in a 30 foot radius and can detect movements as slight as breathing. 

Researchers at IBM have developed a language processing software powered by Watson that translates complex and lengthy sentences into simpler text for those with cognitive or intellectual disabilities. They envision the technology having an immediate applicability with organizations that help high school student’s transition to a college setting by helping students understand complex administrative and educational documents.

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Anthony Maestri

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