Game-changing technology doesn’t always look like the latest iPhone or drone. Sometimes, the most powerful innovations happen on smaller stages. Looking for inspiration behind the big tech curtain? Here are some of our favourite stories of when cool tech is used to transform lives.
A platform for mapping accessible places
The world often shrinks for users of mobility devices; curbs, stairways, narrow doorways, and even shallow steps all present barriers to entering shops and being an active citizen. Frustrated by her own experience of showing up in her wheelchair for a night out with friends, only to discover she couldn’t enter the restaurant because it was non-accessible, Toronto-based entrepreneur Mayaan Ziv decided to do something about it. Enter AccessNow, Ziv’s platform for sharing accessibility information. Powered by crowdsourcing, AccessNow’s map labels businesses as accessible, non-accessible or partially accessible to make the physical world a little more manageable for those living with a disability.
A messaging service for the homeless
Technology doesn’t have to be complex to be life-changing. Take Miracle Messages, for example. This non-profit organization uses a mobile app, online referral platform, and telephone hotline to reconnect those experiencing homelessness with their loved ones by way of a video, audio message, or text message. Miracle Messages trains volunteers to help those without a home record their messages and deliver them to the recorder’s loved ones. So far, 235 families have been reconnected.
3D-printed prosthetic limbs
In 2013, news of the world’s first 3D-printed mechanical hand began to spread. Ivan Owen, the Washington state artist credited with spearheading this new approach to prosthetics—which, prior to his intervention, were often financially inaccessible—made his design files public domain so that anyone could print their own devices. Owen’s innovation sparked a movement; people across the globe began tinkering with and improving upon prosthetics, and sharing their new concepts. Today, 3D printing has radically changed the world of prosthetics, making them more accessible and personalized than ever before.
Smart hearing aids
Hearing aids have come a long way from the bulky, buzzing variety that were often a pain to wear. Today’s offerings are sleeker and smarter, changing the lives of people affected by hearing loss. Halo by Starkey, for instance, are iOS-connected aids that offer direct streaming of phone calls and music for more immersive listening experiences. While Olive Union, a Korean startup, promises Bluetooth connectivity, incredible sound quality, and long battery life, all at an impressively low price point.
Virtual reality for veterans
Post-traumatic stress disorder is at epidemic levels amongst war veterans around the world. The disorder comes with a high emotional, social, and economic toll, and can be difficult and complicated to treat. One seemingly unorthodox treatment that helps relieve symptoms of anxiety, sleeplessness, and paranoia: virtual reality exposure therapy.
VR exposure therapy has veterans strap on a VR headset (often complemented with accessories such as model guns and vibrating chairs) that transports them to a virtual scene depicting a highly traumatic moment from that veteran’s life. The therapist administering the session then guides the patient through a conversation about an event. Repeat sessions have proven effective at reducing the symptoms of PTSD; it’s thought that recurring exposure, when paired with therapy, can help loosen the grip that the traumatic event has on the patient’s life.
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