TECH TALK

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The Internet of Things and Assistive Technology 

by Laura Beane

 

Assistive technology is defined as "any item, piece of equipment, software program, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of a persons with disabilities." [1]. As the internet of things grows, and the number of physical devices linked to each other increases, assistive technology will also advance.

 

The connectivity created through the Internet of Things has helped improve technological ease of use across the board and is not limited to those with disabilities, but it can be a huge quality of life improvement for those who use assistive technology. It leads to more control over the environment for those with disabilities and helps to bridge the gap between the digital and physical worlds. For example, instead of having separate commands for each appliance or device, a person now has the ability to control them with commands from one smartphone due to the internet of things and the connectivity it brings. 

 

Barriers that remain for assistive technology:

 

Finances

 

Technology (and especially new technology) can be expensive and unattainable for many users. For an individual to purchase this technology for their personal use, it can be a shocking price tag. Often software and hardware designed to enable a person with disabilities to simply use a computer cost more than the computer itself. Additionally, for libraries, we are often confined to a tight budget that may not allow for additional technology purchases such as these.

 

Training

 

Certain assistive technology, even when connected through the internet of things, can take time to learn. It can be a large barrier for those with special needs to have assistive technology that is not easy to use or set up. Often, training is offered at different locations such as universities or medical facilities, but this can be difficult to get to with those who have limited access to transportation resources.

 

Librarians and educators, even if willing to implement these tools, often are not afforded the basic training needed to use assistive technology with patrons. Without proper training and knowledge of what this technology can improve for different patrons, the technology often goes untouched and unused.

 

It is interesting to think about how the Internet of Things could help training become easier and easier for new technology. As things become more connected, people will be more familiar with how it operates which could potentially lessen the need for extensive training.

 

Privacy Concerns

 

The internet of things as well as certain assistive technology may deal with large amounts of sensitive data that a user may not want to be captured and shared. This data however is important for the technology to function properly. 

 

All of this is to say that even though there is a long way to go until those who use assistive technology will experience comparable access to everyday comforts and daily activities, the internet of things may be a technological advancement that bridges the physical and digital gap to speed up the advancement and usability of assistive technology. 

 

[1] https://www.atia.org/home/at-resources/what-is-at/

 

Copyright 2022 by Laura Beane.

 

About the author:

 

Laura Beane is the Data Services Librarian at Kennesaw State University. She has an MS in Library Science from East Carolina University. Her professional experience includes data analytics, research, web services, and data services librarianship.