Wearable technology, also sometimes referred to as smart wearables, essentially refers to any technology that you wear on your body to either keep track of health information, or to help you with daily tasks. The earliest versions of wearables actually emerged in the 17th century, although the ones that most people are probably familiar with today are fitness trackers and, specifically, the step counters you’d clip to your belt. Modern day wearable technology is constantly and rapidly advancing, and common examples include smartwatches, virtual/augmented reality glasses and headsets, and smart earphones.
Smart wearables have been great for people with disabilities, and as these technologies become more mainstream and affordable, their benefits increase. Fitness tracking apps now include options that adapt to the mobility needs of those with certain physical disabilities, wearable tech can help deaf people “feel” music, and prosthetics have gotten smart to the point that amputees can now have a fully flexible and functioning robotic arm. Here are just some of the noteworthy ways wearable tech is helping those with disabilities.
These have quickly become some of the most mainstream examples of wearable tech, and the leading smartwatch companies offer various features to help those with different forms of impairment. For example, the Apple Watch is a good option for blind or visually impaired users, since it offers a VoiceOver feature that helps them navigate the interface, which explains what’s on the display when the device is tapped.
Android Wear also offers a similar TalkBack feature as well as the ability to magnify the screen. Additionally, Android allows users to program gestures to perform specific tasks, making navigation easier.
Music is a unifying experience for all people, but people with hearing impairments have always had an extremely limited means to enjoy it. They can feel the vibrations from soundwaves by standing close to speakers, but this was often difficult or impossible to do in a live music setting. Not Impossible Labs offers a solution via their wearable tech vest. The LED-lit vest basically translates every element of a musical performance into pulses, that can be felt in 24 points across the body and creating what they call a “surround-body experience.” This allows users who can’t ordinarily hear the music, to engage with it on a deeper level than was ever possible, before.
Products like Wavio have also given people who have hearing issues a greater independence and awareness of their environment. The device is able to record and recognize various sounds and send them to the user via text or other alerts. This way, users are made aware whenever the doorbell rings, an alarm goes off, or even when it’s thundering outside.
Perhaps one of the most impressive advancements is exoskeleton technology. Exosuits or exoskeletons are essentially wearable machines with motorized joints. A robotic exoskeleton helps to minimize strain or injury by providing support, helping with weight distribution, and correcting posture. While these robotics are most frequently used for rehabilitation, it’s becoming more common for construction workers to use them in the workplace, to protect them against repetitive strain and other injuries.
Ekso Bionics seeks to use their exoskeletons to help patients who have suffered spinal cord injuries, strokes, injured limbs, and other health conditions to regain their mobility. Both upper and lower body exosuits help give patients the support they need to begin moving again, and help doctors correct movement patterns on the road to recovery.
Is It Affordable?
Generally speaking, wearable technology is becoming more affordable as it becomes more common. Something as advanced as an exoskeleton, however, could easily drive up your medical expenses. Obamacare prevents insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, like a disability, but traditional insurance plans may not cover all your health care needs. You may find a Medishare or group plan to be a better alternative.
Medishare is basically a Christian care ministry that uses a “good Samaritan” model. Members of Medishare all pay into a pool of money, and when a member incurs medical expenses, they can use the pool to pay for eligible medical bills. Each family has a deductible, or Medishare cost, that they’re responsible for. Since it’s a non-profit organization based on Biblical principles, members are assumed to follow Christian beliefs, and may need to follow a Statement of Faith.
If your employer offers a group health plan, you may seek to join that as an alternative to Medishare or private coverage. You may also be able to find more comprehensive care this way.