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How AI Is Supporting Assistive Technology

How AI Is Supporting Assistive Technology

April 24, 2024

What Is Assistive Technology?

Assistive technology (AT) is crucial in enhancing quality of life and promoting independence for people with disabilities. These technologies support the daily needs of individuals with various impairments, including physical, sensory, cognitive, or developmental disabilities. They also can make physical environments as well as information more accessible for everyone, regardless of disability.

Take wheelchairs or hearing aids into consideration. These are examples of assistive technology that may be useful to someone with a temporary, progressive, or permanent disability.

A wide range of other devices likewise assist people across the disability community in accessing information, staying organized, and communicating. Communications-related technology, for instance, includes screen magnifiers, speech-to-text software, and voice recognition in smart appliances.

But things as common as audiobooks, closed captioning, or virtual assistants like Siri make information more accessible, too. They give individual users different ways to access information, depending on their preference or their ability.

With the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), the potential to enhance assistive technologies is seemingly limitless.

How Artificial Intelligence May Help Improve Assistive Devices

AI has great promise in improving the effectiveness of assistive technology, among any number of other areas. It may also come to play a major role in tailoring devices to the unique needs of individual users.

Personalization

AI can analyze data and readily learn from user interactions to personalize assistive technology devices for individual users. This personalization can lead to more adaptive and accurate solutions, catering to a person’s preferences.

Speech and Language Recognition

Speech recognition is already enhancing the ability of communication devices. AI-powered software is now allowing individuals with speech impairments to communicate more effectively through improved semantic accuracy. It also can convert speech into text, helping those with hearing impairments or difficulty typing.

Predictive Modeling

AI can analyze user data and patterns to predict user intentions or actions. This capability may come to benefit people with motor disabilities or cognitive impairments in controlling certain types of assistive devices more fluently and efficiently.

Natural Language Processing

Natural language processing (NLP) capabilities of AI can enable more intuitive and natural interactions between users and their assistive technology devices. This can give the user easier and faster control, in real time.

Eye-Tracking Technology

Eye-tracking technology allows an individual to control computers and other devices with eye movements. For those who can’t use their hands to control devices, this can improve the ease with which they can access information. The integration of AI is now helping to improve the accuracy of these kinds of devices.

Prostheses

Robotics experts are now equipping prosthetic limbs with sensors and cameras that integrate AI. These can detect the user’s intentions and movements, making limb control more natural and accurate.

Intelligent Decision-Making

AI algorithms can assist decision-making by selecting the best assistive technology solutions that take into consideration the person’s disability, lifestyle, and preferences.

Accessible Environments

Researchers have also experimented with sensors and computer vision to help individuals with vision impairments. AI technology, for example, can help identify barriers in different physical environments for people with this type of disability.

One new assistive device known as the "Glide" offers just this kind of support. It serves as a "self-driving" mobility aid that uses AI to guide its users.

Unlike a walking cane or guide dog, this invention does not require training. Haptic signals tell the user to slow down or stop when they get on and off escalators, and approach doors and crosswalks. (Although the Glide is not yet available on the market, you can join the wait list.)

For people who rely on hearing aids, these, too, have begun to incorporate AI. For example, hearing aids are now using machine learning algorithms to adjust sound settings to the user's environment in real time.

Data Analytics and Insights

AI can process large amounts of data generated by assistive technology devices. Researchers are looking to capitalize on this to improve future iterations of these technologies.

Continuous Learning and Improvement

AI enables devices to learn and improve performance based on user feedback and experiences, leading to enhancements and updates.

AI-powered devices have become more personalized and adaptable to individual needs. The collection of data customizes a user's experience, accounting for their disability, age, height, weight, speech ability, and more. AI automates many tasks previously done by humans, creating assistive technology efficiencies and lowering costs. AI has the potential to transform assistive technology, making it more accessible and effective for people with disabilities.

How Can a Person With Disabilities Access These AI Improvements?

Artificial intelligence is no longer a science fiction fantasy. As it becomes mainstream, it's receiving increased funding from government and private development sources. Institutions and lawmakers alike are examining its benefits and potential detriments. Various disability programs are also making AI-driven assistive technologies available and gathering data for further investigation.

A Special Needs Planning Expert Can Help

Special needs planners can play a crucial role in helping individuals with disabilities access better assistive technology benefits. They focus their work on understanding the rights, benefits and services available to individuals with disabilities.

Knowledge of Available Resources

Special needs planners are knowledgeable about available resources and programs for people with disabilities. They can guide individuals to various funding sources, grants, or charitable organizations that provide assistive technology devices and services. They may also be familiar with the latest devices integrating AI advancements.

Applying for AT Benefits

Qualifying for certain types of assistive technology may require that the user meet specific criteria. A special needs planner can help assess your situation and identify the programs for which you are eligible. 

Attorneys in this field also can help with the application for AT benefits, which can be a complex process. They can help ensure the necessary paperwork is accurate, increasing the likelihood of successful first-time application approval.

If a claim receives a denial, a special needs planning lawyer can help with the appeals process. This may involve gathering additional evidence to present a strong case for why the individual qualifies for AT benefits.

Advocacy, Negotiation, and Complex Cases

Special needs planners will work with government agencies and other relevant parties to advocate on behalf of the individual with disabilities. They can help people with disabilities negotiate for better benefits and upgrades to technology. A professional in this area also can argue for the necessity of specific assistive technology devices or services.

Artificial intelligence will help those with disabilities overcome challenges to participate more actively in society, education, and the workforce. As technology advances, the range and effectiveness of assistive technologies will continue to expand, creating new opportunities for inclusion.

Working with a professional in this area can significantly improve your chances of receiving assistive technology benefits. Many of these devices help lead individuals to more independent and fulfilling lives.