Young disabled boy in a playground with his mum

Our top 5 technology and innovation trends for 2015

New Year may now be a distant memory, but New Year’s resolutions are (just about) going strong and lots of us are still looking to try something new. As January is generally a bit depressing, we thought we’d share some of the exciting technologies and innovations happening in the disability field to give us all something to look forward to for 2015!

We’ve put together a list of five top trends and technologies that are set to gain momentum over the coming year, and which we hope will have a real impact on the lives of disabled people.

  1. 3D Printing

Although these nifty machines have been around for a while now, it’s taken a long time for them to start printing anything of any real use (who needs another 3D printed moustache anyway?). In November we met Mick Ebeling of ‘Not Impossible labs’, who founded ‘Project Daniel’ in 2013, a 3D-printing prosthetic lab and training facility for amputees in war-torn Sudan. Since then 3D printed orthotics are being developed everywhere from prosthetic limbs, to exoskeletons and wheelchair seats, and can reduce the wait for custom made equipment from 28 weeks to just 48 hours and for a fraction of the price. Project Daniel is just one of many inspiring examples of how 3D prosthetics are changing lives for disabled people on a global scale. With 3D printing set to grow 98% in 2015, and with 3D printers now available on the high-street, we hope 2015 will be the year when 3D printed orthotics become more affordable, accessible and widespread than ever.

  1. Wearable Technology

Wearables seem to be everywhere now from the Apple Watch and Google glass to health technologies like Kiqplan and Fitbit. With this newfound focus on health and wellbeing in mainstream wearable technology there is huge potential for wearables to be adapted to support disabled people with living more healthily and independently, such as SmartGlasses which help visually impaired people to see.

Another such technology that is still in development stage, but we are equally excited for is the VEST which stands for Versatile Extra-Sensory Transducer. This non-invasive, low-cost vibratory vest allows those with hearing impairments to use ‘sound-to-touch mapping’ to interpret auditory information through small vibrations on their torso. VEST is an idea developed by Dr. David Eagleman and works on ‘sensory substitution’, the idea that the brain can gather data using one sense, and then transfer it to another sense. With projects like this already up and running thanks to crowdfunding it seems the possibilities for Wearable technology are endless!

  1. Shared economy

Another trend that’s become almost impossible to ignore is the growing ‘shared economy’. This has seen everything from Crowdfunding and peer to peer lending, to services such as Task Rabbit, Casserole Club, Airbnb, and even BorrowMyDoggy.com (yes, it really is a thing). We think there is huge potential here for disabled people to get extra support and through the collaborative economy, as well as being able to get involved and share their skills.

Spice Time Credits, a social currency, is one way this is happening already. It works on the principle of individuals volunteering an hour of their time, and in exchange receiving one time credit worth an hour, which can be ‘spent’ on events, training and leisure services. It has already proved hugely successful across England and Wales from communities to Schools and social care settings and has seen a huge increase of customer participation and new models of co-production developed. What’s great about Time Credits is that everyone’s time is of equal value, regardless of knowledge, expertise or skills, and offers real life experience where people are rewarded for their contribution.

  1. Connected home

Although being able to control your heating from your smartphone may seem a tad unnecessary and somewhat self-indulgent (maybe that’s just us?!), it does show exciting development in the world of smart machines and the connected home. At Beaumont, Scope’s residential FE College, we’re already using environmental controls within some of our living areas, to allow students the independence to control things such as their curtains, lights and doors, from their smartphone or tablet.

Samsung has developed its SmartThings home control system, which can be used to monitor and control connected items in the home from locks to light switches and plug sockets. We’re really excited to see the demand for these technologies growing in the mainstream market and we hope that such technology will soon become both affordable and widely available, as it has huge potential to revolutionise the very meaning of independent living for disabled people!

  1. Hacks and ‘making’

The work we have been doing with IKEA has opened up a whole new world of ‘hacks’ and ‘making’ to us. Everyone seems to be having a go at making ‘handmade’ products, and ‘hacking’ mainstream products and furniture to meet the needs of disabled people. The Wheelchair Liberator, developed by Malcom Rhodes, is one such example and a far cry from the traditional homemade jam and knitted jumpers!

With coding now part of the national curriculum for all school children, apps are another thing that (almost) every man and his dog are having a go at making, and there really does seem to be an app for everything! The Apps for Good programme has seen a huge number of apps developed by young people aged 10-18 to address some of the biggest problems facing young people in our society. One such app is Supportive Schedule, an app designed to help people with learning difficulties and mental health conditions and their carers with daily routines. It provides pictorial guides to completing simple tasks such as making a cup of tea, to help aid their independence. It was developed by six young people at a school in Cumbria and won the Apps for Good award “Our World – encouraging sustainable and healthy lifestyles” in 2013.

From care sharing app Jointly, to diabetes management apps like Diabetes UK’s Tracker App, there are a wealth of apps out there designed to make life easier for disabled people.

We love this trend of people finding innovative solutions to their own problems. That’s why we’re working on creating a database of what we like to call ‘disability innovations’, to showcase the best technologies and creations out their making life easier for disabled people.

If you know of any such apps, technologies or innovations that are making a real difference to the lives of disabled people, then we’d love to hear from you!

We’d especially want to know if you have hacked or invented something yourself, so we can include them in our database and help you share them with others.

Get in touch with us at innovation@scope.org.uk or of course leave any comments below.