The State of Assistive Technology
Assistive technology’s footprint continues to expand. According to “Global Assistive Technology Market 2017-2021” by Technavio, one of the key drivers for the assistive technology market will be the growing elderly population. Additionally, the U.S. Census Bureau 2017 National Population Projections estimate there will be 78 million people 65 years and older by 2035, meaning the demand for assistive tech seems poised to continue its upward trajectory.
Now add in issues with dexterity, cognitive difficulties, and age-related injuries that could hamper mobility. For boomers and others near that age bracket, assistive technologies able to overcome these challenges are becoming more important.
But elderly users aren’t the only ones looking for assistive technologies to help improve their quality of life. Research has shown that 4% of adults report having a problem using their voice that lasted one week or longer during the previous 12 months, according to the Society for Epidemiologic Research. Children are also a common market for assistive technology; research from the National Center for Health Statistics reveals almost 8% of kids ages 3 to 17 have had a disorder related to voice, speech, language, or swallowing in the previous 12 months. Together, the scope of the market for assistive technologies is vast, with few demographics not benefiting in some way from them.
The Year in Review
The past year didn’t necessarily see a lot of new innovation in assistive technology, says Paul Stisser, director of educational institutions and LMS partnerships at ReadSpeaker, but it’s notable that the products have steadily improved. “The voices are getting better, which is making the user experience much better,” he says. Instead of the robotic voice that greeted users in years past, synethetic voices today are often hard to distinguish from human ones. It’s an improvement that’s making the experience more enjoyable for users. “When you can press play and listen to something, it opens up opportunities to everyone who may learn differently,” Stisser says.
For several years now, a big driver for assistive technologies has been educational use. That was the case this past year and it’s likely to remain that way for a while. “Personal literacy tools that read text out loud while following along with the highlighted text [were] important for learners in 2018,” Stisser says. Assistive technology is key to simultaneously presenting information in both visual and audio formats, which can help improve students’ comprehension and outcomes.
Not only is assistive technology an important tool in working through learning disabilities, it’s also proving useful for a growing number of English learners and others with a range of learning differences. “Tools like this allow a student to interact with content in a way that suits their abilities and helps them to become more confident learners,” Stisser says. Features such as converting speech into text, text translations, and downloadable audio files provide benefits to students of all types, including distracted learners and anyone who wants an alternative way to learn.
Speech tech is a major driver behind assistive devices—ones that incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning and benefit from faster processing speeds and internet connectivity—that are helping people with all sorts of disabilities