Wheelchair innovations named top assistive tech of the decade

Wheelchair innovations have been named as the most important revolution of the last decade for, and by, people with disabilities. The IET gathered the views of almost 300 people with a disability to release a list of the top ten innovations, which includes:

  • Enhanced battery capacity for wheelchairs
  • AI hearing aid (able to detect multiple environmental sounds and reduce these at each frequency range to improve the clarity of speech
  • Wearable tech for people living with Parkinson’s
  • SMART belt to detect seizures
  • LUKE – a smarter prosthetic arm
  • App-enabled pacemaker
  • Bionic eye
  • Mindfulness apps for people with severe anxiety
  • Kenguru car (a vehicle for people in wheelchairs)
  • (JOINT 10th) EnChroma glasses (correct colour blindness) AND Kaspar (robot to help children with autism)

Life-changing impact

Technology has changed the way we all exist but for many people with a disability, it can often have profound effects. Two thirds (67%) of those surveyed agree that innovations have greatly improved their lives and four in ten (41%) say they have become more independent as a result. For one fifth (22%) technological developments have provided them with greater access to venues and events and the same number say tech has brought them closer to their able-bodied peers. In fact, technology has played such a large role in many disabled people’s lives that a third (33%) believe the impact of tech has been greater than that of policy.

Alongside this research, the IET has shared its predictions for the most important assistive technology developments for the next decade. It is working with London 2012 ParalympicsGB superstar, Dame Sarah Storey, to celebrate the incredible assistive tech innovations that have changed people’s lives.

Dame Sarah Storey, a ParalympicsGB hero of London 2012, said: “It’s phenomenal to see how far assistive tech has come over the past decade. Whether it’s increasing people’s independence or helping them to connect with others, these innovations have a profound impact on people’s everyday lives. The work the IET is doing to support the developments in assistive tech is integral to striving towards a more equal future for all.”

Dr Guy Gross from IET’s Healthcare Committee comments: “Just ten years ago, electric wheelchair batteries would only allow users to go to the shops and back a couple of times before needing a recharge. Now, battery-life has increased to allow more than 30 miles between charges meaning wheelchair users enjoy significantly more independence and reduced concern over being left stranded without power. This is just one advancement in a whole host of developments within assistive technology, which we will see ladder up to creating a better way of life, and more opportunities for all.”

Looking to the future

Two-fifths of the disabled people questioned are optimistic about what the next decade will offer them and there is particular excitement on the potential benefits offered by robotic prosthesis (24%), driverless cars (15%) and AssistiveTouch (11%). The IET’s predictions for the biggest innovations of the next 10 years include:

  • A SMART grid for healthcare – to help spot patterns of behaviour and symptoms that can’t be tracked in the handful of hours people usually spend in front of a healthcare professional
  • Advancements in artificial organs - such bionic hearts and lungs, enabling people to live longer
  • Auto self-driving cars - enabling disabled people who can’t usually leave their homes without relying on someone else to have their own independence
  • VR and AR tech guidance systems - providing remote care