5 Wearables Making Life Easier for People With Disabilities

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We're in the midst of a technology revolution that continues to change the way we live. Things that were once far out of reach are now at our fingertips (quite literally). In fact, some of the world's greatest innovators have even found ways to merge digital technology with clothing and other wearables to make life easier for people with disabilities. These five fascinating wearable devices are currently on display at the Museum of Science and Industry's Wired to Wear exhibit, and we'll tell you how you can see them in person.

Visual Impairment: SpiderSense Vest

Developed by Victor Mateevitsi, the SpiderSense vest was designed to help people with visual impairment better navigate their physical environment. The wearable vest uses proximity sensors and vibration motors to provide haptic feedback and alert the wearer to obstacles in their path. In the exhibit, guests can take a look at a series of prototypes on display and even test out SpiderSense. The vest can also be used to help first responders navigate smoke-filled rooms and to assist drivers or bicyclists in identifying blind spots on the road.

These “SignAloud” gloves developed by UW sophomores Navid Azodi and Thomas Pryor translate American Sign Language into speech and text.

Hearing Impairment: SignAloud Gloves

Created by students Navid Azodi and Thomas Pryor during a competition at the University of Washington, SignAloud is a pair of gloves that translates sign language into text and speech. Azodi says the inspiration for the gloves came from their desire to "provide an easy-to-use bridge between native speakers of American Sign Language and the rest of the world." Sensors in the gloves record hand positions, which are analyzed by a computer and then translated via speakers.

Cardiac Health: ZOLL LifeVest

Designed for patients at risk for sudden cardiac arrest, the ZOLL LifeVest is a wearable defibrillator. The vest, worn under normal clothes at all times except when bathing, uses an electrode belt to detect irregular heart rhythms and a monitor that continuously records heart rate. If the device detects a life-threatening abnormality, it delivers a shock to restore the heartbeat to normal.

Arm Prosthetic: Project Unicorn

This glitter-shooting, cone-shaped prosthetic arm is the brainchild of teenager Jordan Reeves. Reeves, born without a portion of her right arm, says she spent years brainstorming how to turn her prosthetic into something magical to show people that differences don't have to hold us back. The glitter-filled cannon, which Reeves calls "Project Unicorn," can shoot a stream of sparkles 6 feet into the air!

Emma's attempts at writing her name wearing the watch (right) and without it (left).

Parkinson's Disease: Project Emma

A Parkinson's diagnosis left then 29-year-old designer Emma Lawton with constant tremors, which put her at risk of losing her design career. When Haiyan Zhang, a Microsoft Innovation Director, saw Emma's story on a BBC documentary series, she jumped into action to help. Designed specifically for Emma's symptoms, the Emma Watch uses vibration to short circuit the erroneous sensory feedback loop thought to be responsible for tremors in Parkinsons patients. The watch is currently undergoing research to determine its effectiveness on others with the disease, but for Emma, the proof is on the page: Visitors to the "Wired to Wear" exhibit can see a notebook with two messages Emma has written: one with and one without the Emma Watch. The difference is dramatic.

For more wearable technology, check out Wired to Wear at the Museum of Science and Industry. It features items from brands, designers, engineers, and artists across 15 countries to give visitors a firsthand view of how wearable technology is fueling innovation to revolutionize the benefits clothing can provide. The exhibit is open through May 2020. Get your tickets here.

Written by Ashley Gabriel June 5, 2019
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