Home General How Technology Is Changing the Landscape of Opportunity for the Disabled

How Technology Is Changing the Landscape of Opportunity for the Disabled

The wonder of technology

These days technology is a part of almost every human beings’ life to some extent. Whether they might be a farmer working in the fields, checking the weather on their iPhone, or a child playing with their toys, using an artificial arm.

Robot Arm Artificial Limbs Prosthetics Opened Hand

It seems that no matter where we look, we find technology being busy to improve our lives and the lives of those around us. The world today is full of opportunity just waiting to be grasped. We are in an era where more and more startups are popping up every day. The sheer number of millennial era people running their own businesses is staggering.

Thanks to the technological advancements in social media and the internet of things (IoT) we now have people building a brand and making a living in ways we would have never thought possible when I was a kid. It genuinely amazes me that you have young people out there hustling and making something of themselves right out of or sometimes even during high-school. The world is a truly beautiful and amazing place and these young people are our future.

But what happens when you are disabled?

DRBMy name is Daniel and I am disabled. Being disabled can mean many things and every person with disabilities is different in many ways. Being legally disabled is a broad term used to inform a much narrower group of requirements set by the social security administration. The broadness of the brush stroke used to bunch us all together does not necessarily carry over to the SSA and how they determine if one is disabled. So, before we go any further let’s talk for a moment about what it means to be disabled vs. what it means to receive disability benefits.

Disability Elderly Status Definition Man Looking Outside Window Room Inside Blinds

The definition of the word disabled according to the ADA: A person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity. This includes people who have a record of such an impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability. It also includes individuals who do not have a disability but are regarded as having a disability.

The definition of the word disabled according to the Dictionary.com: #1 to make unable or unfit; weaken or destroy the capability of; incapacitate: #2 to make legally incapable; disqualify.

Forget all that

Here is the only thing that matters to the Social Security Administration. The definition of disability under Social Security is different from other programs. Social Security pays only for total disability. No benefits are payable for partial disability or for short-term disability.
We consider you disabled under Social Security rules if:

  • You cannot do work that you did before;
  • We decide that you cannot adjust to other work because of your medical condition(s); and
  • Your disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.

This is a strict definition of disability. Social Security program rules assume that working families have access to other resources to provide support during periods of short-term disabilities, including workers’ compensation, insurance, savings, and investments.

Seems pretty harsh right?

Well, it is. But I’m not here to talk to you about the evils of the SSA or any other negative nonsense. I am here to tell you about the wondrous opportunity afforded to the majority of the disabled community. The landscape of opportunity for disabled peoples is changing and it’s changing fast.

Zen Calm Walking Maze Mood Feeling

I am not going to set false expectations here. I’m not talking about getting every person who is disabled back to work without worry or fear of being fired at the drop of a hat. I’m talking about something far more important – at least in my opinion: quality of life!

I cannot think of a single thing in the entire world more important than the quality of life; this single idea can be found in every part of the world and by most of her people. Quality of life has been a driving force for humanity since prehistoric times.

So, it makes sense that entering into the Fourth Industrial Revolution we would as human beings use our vast knowledge, and capability to adapt the world around us to create just that, quality of life. The more we strive to enable one another the faster our advancements are achieved, the faster we advance the more we are able to improve the quality of life of all people, disabled peoples included.

If you are disabled and reading this you may feel as though this doesn’t currently apply to you. So please allow me a moment to list the ways in which technology can or have improved the lives of disabled people as recently as this morning.

How?

Let me start off with an anecdote of personal nature. I woke up yesterday morning at about 7:00 am PST, this was not at all planned, but I suffer from night terrors which can often make it impossible to sleep. In my case, the night terrors wake me in a state of panic. What do I do? Well, like any good Irish boy I called my mom; who is currently in Colorado with a number of family members for family matters. I spoke with my mother for a few moments, said hello to my father and got my butt out of bed and got on Twitter.

This may seem a mundane anecdote but take a minute to examine the factors at play here. I woke up alone in a terror with a panic-stricken paranoia and a sense of impending doom. I was able within a few seconds to reach out to one of my safety nets and calm myself enough to head to my next safety net Twitter. All this was made possible by having a cell phone, cell towers, a carrier and the ability to share towers with other phone companies.
Without these seemingly commonplace and mundane things, I would have landed squarely in the ER.

Such a commonplace thing saved me from more pain than I care to discuss. Truly just the phone aspect of smartphones has changed the way we live as a society I remember a time when we didn’t have a tiny supercomputer in our pockets at all time ready to do our every bidding. I remember the commonplace house phone; and while a modern marvel in its own right it had limitations that made my early life very difficult. I would not have been able to get up and get to the phone had it been a wall or table mounted type because I was nearly paralyzed with fear. Instead, I was able to hit one button and call for help; this truly is a modern marvel.

Social media

This one is a bit of a double-edged sword, so to speak. We could spend the next Quintilian years (NOPE) talking about trolls and the toxic elements that can be attached to social media. Luckily, I already did that in my podcast a few days ago. No, today I am going to talk about how social media can be used as a tool for healing.

Woman using smartphone social media smiling

There are three main aspects to social media that I believe allow for social media to help reshape the landscape of opportunity for the disabled:

  1. Like-minded people who know what you are going through and can talk with you about your problems. e.g. support groups.
  2. Resources. Social media can be a great place to find resources both in your local area and elsewhere. This is paramount to always having an escape route, which for some is a must have.
  3. Friends. I am incensed by the misconception that online friends are not real friends. With the expansion of our social reach so expands our ability to make friends. No longer are we limited to local space, we are at a point in our evolution that allows us to have much a much larger tribe than ever before. This has some pretty amazing benefits, for instance, I am never alone. I can always reach out to someone because I have friends in just about every time zone. So, if I need a friend, I can always count on someone being around.

This expansion of our social reach allows for the collaboration of some of the most brilliant minds on our planet without the necessity of travel and the expense therein. This means more think-tanks, and that is always a good thing.

Think about it like this. Somewhere right now there is someone in Peru collaborating with someone in the Congo, that is a 6-hour difference in time, they are 10.6k miles apart, and yet these two people are able to contrast and compare unique characteristics of each respective rainforest, thus allowing both people a better understanding of what is needed to preserve rain-forests as a whole.

How do rainforests correlate with opportunity or disabled people?

I’ll admit it seems a far stretch from saving the rainforest to unraveling the puzzle that is bipolar disorder, but there is a major correlation, time. Or to be more accurate the ability to act remotely to solve problems. Which brings me to another one of my favorite forms of technology. One that is reshaping the landscape of opportunity for the disabled rapidly. CAMERAS! Both video and still-frame camera technology has come to a long way folks.

Now you’re on about cameras?

I remember my first camera, it was an old Minolta SLR, a gift from my Godfather when I decided to take photography classes. Just about every smartphone out there has a digital camera built in now and some of them are amazing. I have a Samsung S9 and the camera is wonderful. Having cameras at our disposal allows us to be far more artistically vigilant compared with the past.

Photographer Photography Woman Taking Photos Pentax Camera Open Eyes Red Background

It’s no secret some people abuse the disabled. The sad truth of the matter is that some people always punch down. But now, with a phone in almost every person’s hands, we are finally starting to curb this abuse. See something, say something has never been more accessible than it is today. This alone has improved the quality of life for the disabled vastly. As an example, home caregivers can be some of the most angelic people on this earth, however, that is sadly not always the case. There is a video,

which I will spare you the heartbreak of linking, where an elderly woman, suffering from dementia, was abused verbally and physically by a home caregiver. Luckily the family had a nanny-cam set up, live-streaming directly to their smartphones. If we didn’t have the access to this kind of technology, this woman could have suffered far worse than what she had already endured, and possibly for extended periods.

My grandmother suffered severe dementia in her final days and was it not for her ability to listen to a TV, something as simple as television, she would have been so lost in her own mind. We would not have been able to communicate with her. She was a great fan of all things horror movie related, and so is my mother, as well as me. It was this bond that allowed us moments of lucidity that we held fast any chance we could. Just a TV and Netflix. A technology we take for granted every day, but for me and my family, it was a way to bridge a gap that would have otherwise been a chasm.

Visual impairment

I would say “I cannot imagine being blind,” but I have a very dear friend who was blind for many years as a child. As she describes it, her vision started to fade slowly and one day it was just gone. She described once in detail what it was like. The fear she felt and the challenges she faced. So yes, I can imagine being blind and it terrifies me.

Blind Woman Covering Eyes Black Background

Which is why I am always so delighted by the streetlights in most of the cities I have traveled to; which is not an insurmountable sum. They talk to you! It blows my mind. First off, the buttons have braille on them and then to top it off, they either talk to you or they make an easily identifiable sound letting you know when it is safe to cross the street.

The amount of freedom this gives the visually impaired is something that brings me joy in abundance. Such a simple combination of technology has made the world so much safer for the visually impaired, granted them more independence and not rather importantly it has further normalized them to society as a whole. Quality of life my friends.

Hearing impairment

As someone who is losing their hearing, this holds a special place in my personal ledger of disabilities and technology. Hearing impairment is a heated and much-discussed topic. I encourage you to look into the concept of “deaf gains” as an alternative to “hearing loss” While I cannot honestly say I totally understand the mindset, it has more merit than it is given credit for and will certainly broaden your social view of those with hearing impairment.

Hearing Aid Impaired Ear Device Gadgets Technology

Now for me, I am at a stage where I can still hear out of both ears but am nearly deaf in one and partially deaf in the other. After many tests, the cause of my hearing loss is still a mystery. As a point of fact, I have some more blood tests to get done soon that may shed some new light on that topic. But we are not here to discuss my total lack of bravado when it comes to phlebotomy. We are here to talk about ways in which technology is improving the lives of those with disabilities and affording them an opportunity they may not have previously been granted.

Cochlear implants have fascinated me for many years. The way they function is amazing. They quite literally bypass the damaged cochlea and perform its function electronically allowing the brain to perceive sound. It really is amazing. Even hearing aids are pretty amazing. Small amplifiers that you wear in or sometimes behind your ears that have tiny pickup microphones and teeny tiny speakers, all designed to allow those with partial hearing loss to participate more easily in tasks that require hearing.

Both of these devices have come a long way in a short while. Hearing aids are now nearly invisible unless you are specifically looking for them and cochlear implants have come as far as being wirelessly chargeable and Bluetooth compatible with several devices including some smartphones as I understand it. This is where we get into to some scary territory.

A cybernetic future

If we can have an implant that allows us to use Bluetooth devices truly wirelessly, where does that road take us? We already have the ability to have a microchip placed just beneath our skin for RFID access. RFID in our skin, Bluetooth in our heads there are even bionic eyes in R&D that boast an ability to see ranges of light humans have never been capable of seeing before. The word Cyborg comes to mind.

Cyborg Cyberpunk Visually Impaired Future Man Urban Fashion

I’m sure that is a very frightening concept for many people. Science is on the verge of so many breakthroughs that it sometimes feels like we are becoming something other than human. Transhuman.

All I can say on the matter as a tech geek is this: As science marches forward we must all choose when to march along and when to keep our own pace. For some such, like my brother, a cybernetic future is a great desire for others like my father it is near abominable. I land somewhere in the middle of all that with high hopes and a cautious eye.

A final note on opportunity

The greatest gift afforded us by technological advancements is hope. We can look into the past to see what technology has already done for us, and we can look into the future and see hope for a better day. Without hope, we become lost, set to wander in our troubles. Hope like a lantern in the night can cut through the miasma of self-doubt, depression, weariness and emotional collapse.

Hands Scissors Rock Playing Odds Opportunity

An adage that I hold onto in hard times:

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.

Hope allows us to fight for the opportunities we desire. Hope is the driving force behind achievement and success. And hope is the opportunity to look into tomorrow and say “I will not give up!”

In summation

I know well the minefield that is disability. I know the pitfalls and hard edges, the grit and weight on one’s soul. But I remain optimistic. Throughout my life, I have watched as technology has grown more and more accessible to the public and with each new invention or revision there are an ebb and flow of heated debate, passions and applied doctrine. So will the next stages of technological evolution be as well. I intend to be there for as much of it as I am granted time. I remain ever a tech geek.

Photo credit: The feature image “waiting game” has been done by Louis Amal. The robot hand image has been done by Franck V. “Looking forward” has been done by Alex Boyd. “Rock maze” has been done by Ashley Batz. “Woman on the phone” has been done by Rawpixel. “Red-haired photographer” has been done by Jordan Whitfield. “Blindness” has been done by Ryoji Iwata. “Hearing aid” has been done by Rawpixel. “Hyperbolic” has been done by Alex Iby. “Tattooed arm” has been done by Rawpixel.

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Daniel BennettThis guest article has been provided by Daniel Bennett as a column for TechAcute. This article reflects the author’s views and is built on his opinion and experiences. It is not necessarily the view of the editorial office. Make sure you also check into his work at The Douchebag of Holding on Patreon. Thank you for sharing this with us, Daniel!

Daniel Bennett
Daniel Bennett
Hi I'm Daniel Bennett! I'm a gaming industry and technology journalists, an avid gamer, anime Otaku, coffee aficionado and all around Geek. When things get geeky you can bet I'll be there.

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