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Life Changing Technology for People with Disabilities

When most of us think about eye tracking technology, it sounds pretty interesting, but it’s not something that’s going to change our lives. Eye tracking allows users to move a cursor around a computer or mobile device simply by moving your eyes and head.

Oded Ben Dov initially used eye tracking technology to develop a video game that he showed off on Israeli TV. The next day, he says, he got a phone call from a man who told him: “I can’t move my hands or legs. Can you make a smartphone I could use?”

That was the moment that Ben Dov realized that his eye tracking technology could actually change lives.

“For me, that was a calling to put my skills and knowledge to good use.” He went on to found Sesame Enable, a company that sells smartphones for people who can’t use their hands.

Sesame Enable, which is based in Israel, was in Mountain View, California earlier this month for Google I/O, the annual conference for developers who make products using Google technologies. Sesame Enable is getting support from Google.org ­ the company’s charitable arm.

Eve Anderson, who leads accessibility across Google, says Google.org has given out $20 million to organizations that use technology to help people with disabilities. She even says that a lot of technology that is focused on helping people with disabilities actually comes out of well-designed technology aimed at all consumers.

Although, taking existing technology and making it useful for a disabled person often does require new designs. Tomglobal.org ­ a nonprofit that brings together technologists who want to solve problems for people with disabilities, gets financial support from Google.org.

One of the products that has been generated by tomglobal.org during a hackathon was on display at the I/O conference. It’s a special sensor device for people in wheelchairs who face the problem of “pressure sores.” It was developed by Paul Herzlich and some of his colleagues. Herzlich works in the legal department at Google and he uses a wheelchair.

These sores develop when someone sits in the same position for too long and blood circulation decreases in that area and eventually leads to a breakdown of the skin in that area. The sensor device he developed fits easily on a wheelchair seat and it’s connected to a smartphone app via Bluetooth. If the app recognizes that the person in the wheelchair hasn’t moved in a while, it will notify the user as a reminder to move. This is raising awareness for the user because they’re often paying attention to other things throughout the day and don’t remember to move.

Tech companies realize that the market for products that have a variety of accessibility features is large. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 1 billion, out of approximately 7 billion people in the world, experience a disability.

As much as disabled people benefit from technology developed for regular consumers, it also works the other way around. It’s been seen that when the focus is on users with disabilities, the products get better all around for all users.

While it’s great news for disabled people that tech companies are increasing their interest in making products for them, there’s still a long way to go. It’s still rare for companies to have an accessibility team, and that’s especially true for smaller startups. But if companies can focus some of their time and energy into making their already created products and services accessible to those with disabilities, the number of users could potentially push them into a better financial standing. Creating technology for all is almost mandatory in this age, but at this point, it shouldn’t even be a question.

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