Please see below selected recent disability-related change.
- 2021's International Day of People with Disabilities aimed to recognise that people who live with disabilities are among the most affected populations amid the COVID pandemic. Where marginalisation, discrimination, vulnerability and exploitation are every day factors for many people, the increased risk of poor outcomes have been magnified with the reduced access to routine health care and rehabilitation services, more pronounced social isolation, poorly tailored public health messaging, inadequately constructed mental health services, and a lack of emergency preparedness for people with special needs.
- Officially known as the International Symbol of Access, the wheelchair icon is one of the most widely recognisable symbols used worldwide, denoting everything from accessible restrooms to reserved parking spots. The problem is that it's an entirely passive symbol, lacking action or agency, according to TrendWatching. Aiming to rectify that, sports retailer Decathlon Canada worked with creative agency Rethink to design a new set of pictograms featuring people with physical disabilities playing sports. The icon set can be downloaded from AbilitySigns.ca and has been released under a Creative Commons licence for anyone to use.
- Researchers developed a way to return a basic form of sight to the blind, according to NPR. It comes down to bypassing the eyes altogether. The research team connected a camera-enabled pair of glasses to a microelectrode array implanted into the visual cortex of a human test subject's brain. Visual information collected by the camera could then be sent to the brain implant, giving the test subject the ability to identify some letters and the edges of objects.
- The inconveniences most travellers experience when flying are nothing compared to the challenges faced by people who rely on power wheelchairs. Motorised wheelchairs need to be stowed in the cargo hold and are regularly damaged. Design agency PriestmanGoode worked with SWS Certification and Flying Disabled to create a securement system like those used in wheelchair-friendly cars. The Air 4 All system converts front row seats, with up to two seats per row flipping up to make room for a wheelchair. If they're not needed for wheelchairs, they fold back out to be used as regular airline seats. Boarding and disembarking is smoother than if a passenger needs to be transferred to a non-motorised wheelchair, especially for those with severely restricted mobility, noted TrendWatching.
- Tokyo-based DAWN, or Diverse Avatar Working Network, is a cafe staffed by robots, which are operated remotely by people with severe physical disabilities, like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The operators, referred to as “pilots,” can control the robots from home, from a wheelchair or a bed, by mouse, tablet, or a gaze-controlled remote.
- Instead of being met with rejection, author Elsa Sjunneson wants disabled people to be received with accommodation. Sjunneson, who deaf-blind since birth, built a career as a writer, professor and diversity consultant around that desire. She saiad, “Being disabled isn’t a burden. It’s the idea of not being welcome that’s the burden.”
- The pandemic opened doors for many people with disabilities by allowing them to work from home. The end of commutes into relatively inaccessible cities and flexible working hours helped create more suitable working conditions for disabled workers. But with vaccination rates going up and offices reopening, some dreaded a return and hoped the option of remote work was here to stay. Just 50.8% of disabled people are in work across the EU, compared to 74.8% of people without disabilities, according to the European Disability Forum.
- The thought of navigating a supermarket without being able to visually scan aisles and read information can be overwhelming. It's also life as usual for blind people and those with severe vision loss, which is why Kellogg's is adding NaviLens codes to all of its cereal boxes sold in Europe. A combination of a simplified QR code and an app, NaviLens allows people to use a smartphone to scan their environment and access relevant information. Unlike regular QR codes, small NaviLens codes can be picked up from a distance of up to 3 meters, and users don't need to know where a code is to be able to detect it.
- Research indicates that myopia is becoming more prevalent as children spend more time with digital devices held up close to their faces, and less time outdoors. Berlin-based Dopavision is working on MyopiaX, a smartphone app that will counter the negative effects of all that screen time in kids between the ages of 6 and 14. MyopiaX will use light signals that target specific cells in the retina, stimulating the release of dopamine. (Abnormal dopamine levels have been associated with myopia development.) To keep children engaged, MyopiaX will integrate those therapeutic lights into a game. If all goes as planned, it would be the first digital therapy to control childhood myopia.
- The pandemic saw many people adapt to remote work and leisure, prompting disability equality campaigners to ask whether returning to normal has to be the old normal. Frances Ryan wrote in The Guardian, “for disabled people, ‘normal’ too often means being excluded from everyday life,” pointing to numerous ways in which the pandemic helped make many things more accessible and inclusive. From livestreamed gigs to jobs that became fully remote, the pandemic meant many aspects of everyday life adapted rapidly, so must we sacrifice these gains?", asked Ryan.
- Large public housing estates can be disorienting even for people without memory loss. To help those suffering from dementia find their way, the Alzheimer's Disease Association of Singapore created murals on the walls of ground floor spaces. The project uses images chosen by neighbourhood residents with dementia. All are of familiar, old-fashioned food items.
- Thousands of deaf and disabled people across the UK told the BBC of the devastating impact the pandemic has had on their lives. Most said their disability had worsened and more than 2,400 said routine, often vital, medical appointments had been cancelled. More than 3,300 people took part in the research carried out by the BBC. Disability charity Scope said the findings confirmed that disabled people's needs "had been forgotten".
- Brain implants allowed a paralysed man to text his thoughts. The new technique tapped into the cognitive signals associated with handwriting. Brain signals induced by thoughts associated with handwriting were translated into text in real time, allowing the man to text at a rate of 16 words per minute. The system uses brain implants and a machine learning algorithm to decode brain signals associated with handwriting.
- About 1 billion people worldwide – 15% of the global population – have some type of documented disability. Despite these numbers, disabled people experience widespread discrimination at nearly every level of society. This phenomenon, known as 'ableism' - discrimination based on disability - can take on various forms. Personal ableism might look like name-calling, or committing violence against a disabled person, while systemic ableism refers to the inequity disabled people experience as a result of laws and policy.
- In Making Disability Modern (2020), Bess Williamson and Elizabeth Guffey’s ‘design model of disability’ argued that, rather than focusing on how technology cures or rehabilitates, we need to emphasise the agency or identity that materialises between users and their assistive device. By shifting from discretion to assertion, design becomes about reclaiming and fostering identity.
- Applying deodorant is such a routine gesture that most people do it without thinking. Not the case for people with upper limb disabilities. Try opening a deodorant bottle with one hand, and you'll immediately run into issues: how to get the cap off and back on, for starters. For people without hands or limited grip, precise application can be tricky, too. Degree teamed up with design experts, occupational therapists, engineers, consultants and people living with disabilities to remedy that problem and created the world's first adaptive deodorant. Degree Inclusive features a hooked design and magnetic closures on the cap, so users can open and close the product with one hand or limited grip.
- The pandemic opened doors for many people with physical disabilities - by allowing them to work from home, claimed LinkedIn. Gone are the commutes into relatively inaccessible cities, where most jobs were. In fact, after hiring discrimination, offices themselves and their central locations posed one of the biggest barriers to employment for those with disabilities, 60% of whom are unemployed. Some are dreading a return and hope the option of remote work is here to stay. Other groups helped by teleworking included people who are blind and deaf, and must navigate their commutes and those with autism, who may find office spaces difficult to work in.
- Presented by people with intellectual and developmental disabilities for their peers, Hallo Thuis aims to make news accessible to all. The project started in the Netherlands in 2020 to help people understand pandemic news and guidelines. Every time the Dutch Prime Minister and Minister of Health hold a COVID-19 press conference, Hallo Thuis follows up with a live chat show. The hosts discuss government measures and other news, figuring them out together and answering viewers' questions in plain language. All of the hosts are differently abled.
- Making it easier for blind people to use smartphones, the Hable One is a pocket-sized keyboard and controller with eight buttons. It connects to iOS and Android using Bluetooth and allows users to write and edit texts, navigate through applications and use shortcuts.
- Seeking astronauts with physical disabilities, the European Space Agency also started recruiting candidates to make space more accessible.In what it called a first for human spaceflight worldwide, ESA said in a statement it was looking for "individual(s) who are psychologically, cognitively, technically and professionally qualified to be an astronaut, but have a physical disability that would normally prevent them from being selected due to the requirements imposed by the use of current space hardware."
- Unemployment rose faster during the pandemic among disabled people than other workers, and prejudice appears to have hardened. When questioned last September by Leonard Cheshire, a charity that supports those with disabilities, 42 per cent of UK employers indicated that coronavirus had made them more hesitant to employ disabled workers, due to concerns around supporting them properly during the pandemic, reported the Financial Times.
- A 78-year-old blind man regained his sight after being fitted with a synthetic cornea. Developed by Israeli startup CorNeat, the KPro was the first such implant that can be integrated directly into the eye with no donor tissue needed, noted New World, Same Humans.
- 3 December is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities to focus on disability inclusion. The 2020 theme ‘Not all Disabilities are Visible’ also focuses on spreading awareness and understanding of disabilities that are not immediately apparent, such as mental illness, chronic pain or fatigue, sight or hearing impairments, diabetes, brain injuries, neurological disorders, learning differences and cognitive dysfunctions, among others.
- Currently, around 50 million people worldwide have dementia, with that number estimated to reach 82 million in 2030 and 152 million in 2050. Which means that empowering carers to improve the lives of those with dementia can have a huge impact. Companies are already responding. One example, HACK CARE is a catalogue detailing easy hacks to IKEA products, focused on creating friendlier environments for those living with dementia. The catalogue includes assembly guides for an adapted chair, shelving/care unit, fidget board and a table, all made from products and parts readily available from Ikea.
- Future Today Institute reported on Diminished Reality (DR), which can make environments more comfortable and free from distraction for the average user, but the technology also has more targeted applications as well for those with special needs. A study published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers outlined a series of experimental workshops that used DR to assist individuals on the autism spectrum "who are adversely affected by continuously changing surroundings or distracting visual incidents." The workshops used the technology to filter out irrelevant visual information, allowing the subjects to focus more easily.
- At Starbucks’ ‘Signing Store’ in Tokyo, customers point to items on a menu or use speech-to-text voice recognition to place their orders while interacting with deaf or hard-of-hearing employees. The store opened in an area of Tokyo with strong ties to the deaf community. In addition to employing people who are deaf or hard of hearing, the Signing Store also incorporates sign language and other elements of deaf culture in its design and artwork. Digital displays not only help customers track their orders, but also show commonly signed phrases, encouraging everyone to try communicating in sign language.
- Because of universal prenatal testing and attitudes towards abortion, Denmark’s population of people with Down syndrome is smaller than it ever has been. The Atlantic spoke with people who chose to terminate their pregnancies and people who didn’t, and looked at a future population altered by genetic screening for a range of other conditions.
- A free smartphone app that enables users to practice speaking clearly and slowly in a way that is easy for individuals with hearing loss to understand even when the speaker is wearing a mask was created by an audiology consulting company based in eastern Japan. The app allows users to record themselves saying everyday phrases like "Please tell me your phone number." Users then received feedback on the clarity of their speech using a five-level scoring system. They can also obtain more specific advice, such as, "You're speaking too fast,"
- Research shows that neurons in autistic brains begin to developmentally diverge in early prenatal stages. Researchers couldn't perform their study on pregnant women, so they devised an experiment that allowed them to observe developing nerve cells in vitro. For the experiment, the researchers selected fifteen individuals, six controls and nine people with an autism spectrum condition but from unique genetic backgrounds. They acquired hair samples from each to extract induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). These cells can self-renew and continue to make more copies of themselves. The researchers examined the cells at three distinct developmental stages: days 9, 21, and 35. They inspected cellular appearance and also sequenced RNA. They found that the autistic neurons took a very different developmental path than those from the controls.
- People with health conditions that limit their activities accounted for nearly 60% of UK Covid-19 deaths in the first six months of the pandemic - but just 16% of the population. That definition of disability is based on responses to the 2011 census. The Office for National Statistics estimates that people whose daily activities are limited a lot or a little by health problems, which are expected to last for at least a year, accounted for almost six in 10 (59%) coronavirus deaths.
- The coronavirus pandemic necessitated, where possible, that people work remotely. Previously, working from home has been something of a taboo. Despite findings that flexible home working has significant benefits, shown as long ago as 2010 in a Durham University study, companies have been reluctant to adopt it, mistakenly believing workers will be less productive. However, one group, in particular, has been campaigning tirelessly for flexible work: disabled and chronically ill people, who are often pushed out of traditional work due to their needs. COVID-19, however, has forced many employers to trial remote working and they have realised that it actually works. If continued after the pandemic, widespread adoption and normalisation of flexible working, whether in terms of hours or location, would ease the burden on disabled employees and employers might benefit, too.
- A photographer with a rare muscle-wasting condition turned the camera on himself to document the reality of living with a disability. Daytime Disability is a personal account that attempts to put the viewer in the shoes of Jordan Mossom who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The images showed the reality of a life dependant on medical equipment and support staff for independence. Mossom said he hoped it would raise awareness to a wider audience, as well as being a "source of inspiration to other young men who have the condition, so they have something to relate to in the public eye".
- Nearly 40% of people globally with disabilities were laid off or furloughed as a result of the pandemic, according to some estimates. Even before the crisis, adults with disabilities in the EU were more than 20% less likely to hold a job compared with those without disabilities. As the coronavirus forces employers to reimagine the working world, leaders have an opportunity to completely rethink how and where work is done and such change could benefit disabled employees, experts told LinkedIn.
- "Too often do we forget that people with disabilities, too, have to deal with microaggressions on the regular," according to Wendy Lu, who has a tracheostomy tube. "They can take place in everyday conversations, making them hard to call out unless you want to be looked down upon for making a big deal out of 'nothing.'" If you have a coworker who has a disability, avoid tropes like telling them their disability is "inspiring," or tip-toeing around it by referring to their disability to a "special need." "I want to live in a world where we don't have such low expectations of disabled people that we are congratulated for getting out of bed and remembering our own names in the morning," comedian and activist Stella Young said at TEDxSydney. In other words, you shouldn't be shocked when your coworker with a disability is able to accomplish just as much as their able-bodied peers.
- Disabled and mobility-impaired people who cannot attend marches can find online activism tools a helpful way to promote issues and protest inequalities.
- The wheelchair has long been the primary solution for those with mobility challenges, yet the design has not changed drastically in hundreds of years. But new walking robots may finally be ready to disrupt the space, with one exoskeleton becoming the first to allow a paraplegic man to walk fully upright, without the need for crutches.
- About 15 per cent of the global population has some form of disability, says the World Health Organisation, of whom 2-4 per cent “experience significant difficulties in functioning”. This amounts to both a significant untapped human resource and a substantial market, reported the Financial Times. People with disabilities have $8tn of annual disposable income globally, according to Canadian research organisation Return on Disability. “To be able to serve this market of disability, you need [people with disabilities] in your business,” says Caroline Casey, founder of The Valuable 500, a global initiative campaigning to put the inclusion of disabled people in business on the agendas of large companies at board level. During the corconavirus epidemic, she saw an increase in companies signing up and committing to be one of 500 leaders in the field. “The business system that we were told for so long could not adapt is now embracing flexible and agile working [during the pandemic],” Ms Casey says. “The difference [now] is an intention and a desire to change.” Having adapted the way we work so dramatically and quickly, she adds, “why not empower everyone”, including disabled people, to contribute in the world of work. “There are no more excuses.”
- “Zoom fatigue” is not new to the deaf community. The intense concentration needed to parse what’s being said over choppy audio and time delays is a sliver of what they undergo daily.
- Unveiled at CES 2020 by French company Lexilife, Lexilight is a lamp that makes it easier for people with dyslexia to read. Research suggests that people without dyslexia have a dominant eye, resulting in a single image being produced in the brain when they read. But people with dyslexia have ‘two dominant eyes’, which can result in an unclear or ‘mirror’ image being produced. Lexilight uses pulsing LED lights that encourage one eye to take control and send a single, clear image to the brain. Lexilife say they’ve tested the lamp on 300 people with dyslexia, and 90% of participants said that they could ‘effortlessly read a text illuminated by the lamp.
- In Davos, disability advocate Caroline Casey had three CEOs crying on stage in 2019 as they pledged to do more to promote the inclusion of disabled workers. By 2020, more than 240 companies in 24 countries with a combined workforce of more than 9.8 million had signed up for the Valuable 500, the campaign Casey kicked off last year. The group wants 500 global corporations with at least 1,000 employees to make a promise on disability inclusion - and be held accountable for it.
- The Valuable 500 is a global campaign calling for the world’s most influential businesses to unlock the corporate, social and economic value of the estimated one billion people globally living with disabilities. We need 500 national and multinational, private sector corporations to be the tipping-point for change and to unlock the business, social and economic value of people living with disabilities across the world. Because the potential of 1.3 billion should not be ignored.
- Further reading:
- Employment rises for disabled people but pay gap remains large - Financial Times
- IKEA makes furniture more accessible with 3D printing - Engadget
- Key barriers disabled people face in the workplace - EY
- Low vision: improving life, work and travel for the visually impaired - Raconteur
- The Business Case for Disability Inclusion - World Economic Forum
- Further reading:
- Further reading:
- Siam Piwat, a shopping mall operator in Thailand, began showcasing products made by underprivileged or disabled craftspeople. The Made by Beautiful People initiative provides rent-free retail space for these creators in two of its malls Siam Piwat collaborated with seven organisations and nonprofits across Thailand (including the Autistic Thai Foundation and the Anusarnsunthon School for the Deaf), and the operator lent its marketing expertise to the featured sellers.
- US-based retailer Kohl’s added clothing for people with disabilities and complex medical needs to three of its private-label brands for kids. The Jumping Beans, SO and Urban Pipeline brands will now feature clothing with abdominal access and sensory-friendly materials, as well as wheelchair-friendly options.
- Only 6% of the 1.5 million British adults with learning disabilities are currently in paid employment.
- Brazilian beer brand Skol is funding the creation of a smart shopping cart that helps the visually impaired shop in supermarkets. Users wear a headset, and get instructions from the AI-powered cart on how to navigate the aisles. The cart also features sensors that report obstacles such as smaller shelves, objects and people. Shelves will be labelled in braille at participating supermarkets. The smart carts launched in 2019.
- A recent housing development featured a range of adaptations for disabled people found almost nowhere else. Much of the work on the UK site, owned by the RNIB, the charity for visually impaired people, created level or near-level areas to make the steeply sloping site more navigable to wheelchair users. There is also a “sensory path”, a route that will offer partially sighted people a series of cues - including scented plants, distinctive rumble strips and a variety of lamppost shapes - to understand where they are. All the homes will feature wide front doors, to allow easy wheelchair access. The question facing engineers, architects and disability rights campaigners is how far these sorts adaptations could be replicated on the larger scale of world cities. In many urban areas, even metro systems still remain largely off-limits to wheelchair users because of limited step-free access.
- According to the Harkin Institute, a billion people worldwide are affected by disabilities and face an unemployment rate of 80%. The co-author of the Americans with Disabilities Act launched a call to action to "double employment for people with disabilities" worldwide within the next 10 years. If successful, this drive will add 200 million people to the global workforce and make a major contribution to the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goal 8 of achieving “decent work and economic growth” by 2030.
- Further reading:
- At a time when different groups in society are achieving notable gains in respect and rights, activists in mental health are coming up against considerable challenges. A particular challenge is overcoming the commonly held view that mental illness is inherently disabling and cannot form the grounds for identity or culture.
- The Ability Summit aims to "empower all people" – including the more than one billion people with disabilities and to give them access technologies designed for greater inclusivity. Indded, its organiser, Micrsoft, claims to have been building inclusion into its products and services and to help everyone get the most from accessibility resources, the company has the Disability Answer Desk, or DAD. It is free, 24/7 technical support from Microsoft experts trained in assistive technologies.
- Further reading:
- The ThisAbles project from Ikea Israel aimed to make their furniture products more accessible to more people through 3D-printed accessories and adaptations.
- LEGO has been testing LEGO Braille Bricks: special blocks designed to help visually impaired children learn braille. LEGO has repurposed the usual dots on each block to represent different letters, symbols and numbers; each block also has its meaning printed in type to enable sighted friends and family to also learn Braille at the same time.
- An Australian firm announced that its bionic eye system had been used to restore a “sense of sight” to four completely blind people suffering from retinitis pigmentosa. Unlike previous studies of the technology that were limited to in-lab use, the four patients were able to use the system in their everyday environments.
- Alibaba developed a silicone screen overlay called Smart Touch to help blind people use their smartphones. Once the overlay is placed on top of a phone screen, its three buttons become shortcuts for common commands such as ‘go back’ or ‘send’. The function of buttons changes depending on the app that is being used, and the buttons also work via touch against the ear, allowing users to listen to to text while continuing to use their phone. The device, developed as part of Alibaba’s Damo Academy research program, cost only US$0.36) to make in 2018.
- The Economist pointed to a recent survey of 575 wheelchair users across America, Brazil, Britain, India and Japan which found that 39% had been unable to work because of mobility problems. To change this, companies need to hire more disabled people and work on more innovative design. That could even help them come up with better products. Some inventions, like the TV remote control, email protocols and speech recognition, came from the need to help disabled people.
- Ford created a trunk mat that also functions as a portable wheelchair ramp. Dubbed the Accessibility Mat, Ford’s multipurpose trunk liner for the Ecosport SUV enables wheelchair users to access any streets or sidewalks that don’t have a ramp. Ford created the mat after research showed that over 3 million Brazilians have limited mobility, a serious issue given the limited infrastructure in many towns and cities. The mat also connects to an accompanying app every time it is used. This enables users to share data showing local authorities where improved accessibility is most urgently required.
- Three paralysed men are walking again in Switzerland with the help of a team at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. The men first walked on a treadmill while being supported by a gurney-like device as they received jolts from sensors that were placed on their legs and feet. They then left the treadmill and walked across the ground while still receiving electric stimulation. A few months later, they were able to regain their ability to walk without the assistance of any sort of electrical stimulation whatsoever.
- Four UK rail companies are trialling Passenger Assist byTransreport: an app designed to make rail journeys for disabled users easier. The app will allow disabled users to share their exact location with station staff in real-time. Currently disabled passengers’ who book assistance have their scheduled arrivals and locations provided to station staff on paper at the start of the day. Until now, disabled passengers often have had to wait for assistance and have faced the risk of being trapped on board.
- Birding can make nature accessible to the blind, reported Quartz. Think of birdwatchers and an image of people craning to spot a rare species might come to mind. But birds are more likely to be heard than seen, and their calls are often easier to identify than their appearance. Listening for their unique sounds can give everyone - including those without sight - a way of understanding the diversity of nature all around us, as a birder who has been legally blind since childhood, explained.
- Machine learning technologies have become increasingly adept at making medical predictions, whether it’s diagnosing illnesses or predicting the success of treatments. The latest evidence of its potency comes via a study conducted by the University of Oxford that saw machine learning used to predict whether cystic fibrosis patients should be referred for a lung transplant. The study found that the new AI-based method led to a 35% improvement in the accuracy of these predictions compared to existing statistical methods.
- Less than 16% of those with autism surveyed in the US National Autism Indicators Report by Drexel University have full-time paid work, and 51% who did have work said their skills were higher than the job required - findings which informed EY's initiative to create a more neurodiverse workplace. EY's "Neurodiversity Center of Excellence," which has been running since 2016, required buy-in from company executives and a period of time for experimentation, during which EY piloted forms of sourcing and interviewing to best accommodate individuals with autism.
- In a recent interview with NPR, a theatre artist talked about other ways engagement in the arts can help older adults - with dementia and without.
- Eater warned that banning plastic straws could put a serious burden on some people with disabilities continue to face barriers at eating establishments
- Asos has been praised for selling clothes designed with people who have disabilities in mind. The online retailer has released a tie-dye waterproof jumpsuit for festival season, which has been adapted to be wheelchair friendly.
- In its Modern Workplace: Disability special report, the Financial Times looked at the struggles many disabled people face in finding employment, as well as the schemes and technology to help them become and remain economically active.
- Imaginating eliminating unnecessary barriers that disabled people face daily. More than one billion people worldwide experience some form of disability, the UN and World Bank claimed in their World Report on Disability , which urged governments to “to step up efforts to enable access to mainstream services and to invest in specialised programmes to unlock the vast potential of people with disabilities”