Google Glass spectacles

+ Assistive technologies like Google Glass can widen capabilities and improve confidence for disabled people – if they are affordable and secure.

Disabled people can benefit from the increasing array of assistive technology – from Google Glass to specialist applications for smartphones. But with these developments come two very important considerations: cost and crime.

First, let’s look at cost. It’s estimated that 20% of the world’s poorest people are disabled. So with this in mind, we need to ask whether the people for whom these products have been designed can actually afford them. If assistive technologies are to be accessible and successful, they must be affordable – like the vibrating cane.

In addition to restrictions on cost, there is also the issue of competency. Do people know how to use these products? If not, who will teach them and who will fund the cost of this? The two issues are closely related.

Take my husband’s grandmother as an example. She’s a retiree on a state pension, in the early stages of dementia and with increasingly poor eyesight. With Google Glass costing $1,500 and requiring technical savvy, I think it’s highly unlikely that she would ever benefit from this innovation.

Then there’s the issue of crime. In the UK, disabled people are significantly more likely to be victims of crime than non-disabled people. Crime prevention messages tell us to keep our mobile phones out of sight. But what if your mobile phone is an essential tool to help you find your way around? You can’t keep it locked away.

It’s vital that individual safety is not compromised through using these products. Instead of highlighting the potential vulnerabilities of the individual, assistive technologies should be integrated. For example, the Lechal smart shoes provide blind and partially-sighted people with an intelligent aid to mobility that is unobtrusive and discreet.

Subtle, cost-effective and simple-to-use assistive technologies would make more of the public realm accessible to disabled people. It would give them choices about, and control over, their daily lives. It would give them equal opportunities and experiences in society – with dignity, independence and confidence.

That’s why I think this is something that developers of assistive technology must think very carefully about.