How assistive technologies are transforming the lives of disabled people

Living with a disability is a challenge faced by many, but assistive technology is making their lives easier.

Disabled people are the world's biggest minority group. Research from the United Nations shows that more than one billion people, or 15% of the global population, live with some form of disability. For anyone with a disability, day-to-day living and working can be extremely challenging. However, these assistive technologies are making a real difference in their lives.


VR treatments

Virtual reality is well known for its application in gaming and entertainment, but this technology is also transforming the lives of people living with disabilities and illnesses. Wendy Powell, senior member of the IEEE and associate professor at Tilburg University, explains how VR is emerging as a powerful tool in healthcare.

She says: "As we become more advanced, clinics such as the Virtual Reality Medical Centre in California are already routinely delivering VR treatments alongside more traditional therapies. A specialist area of this type of treatment has been gaining attention recently, using immersive VR scenarios to treat veterans and others with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

With VR quickly advancing and becoming more accessible, it's proving to be an effective form of treatment for many different conditions. "For example, it has been found recently that slowing down visual flow through a virtual environment can alter a patient's perception about their own movement and encourage them to move faster," continues Powell.

"Until recently, VR was most widely used for upper limb rehabilitation, for example for stroke patients, as full-body motion tracking systems were expensive and unwieldy. With the proliferation of easy-to-use consumer level tracked VR, there is rapid growth in the use of the technology to enhance treatment in a wide range of conditions, from Parkinson's Disease through to regaining walking after amputation."

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