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22 January 2020

Posted by Dr Scott Hollier, Director and Co-founder of the Centre For Accessibility Australia

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is the world’s largest consumer technology exhibition and showcases the products likely to appear in our shops in the coming months. With over 40,000 new products and concepts on display, it stands to reason that there are some interesting products that open exciting possibilities for people with disabilities.

This year the big brands are continuing to refine new products such as foldable smartphones, driverless cars and 8K televisions which may offer promise in the future, but aren’t quite there yet for the everyday consumer with a disability. There were, however, some innovative niche products which are certainly of interest in the disability space. Here’s my pick for some of the interesting consumer electronics likely to help people with disabilities that will hopefully be available soon.

The Y-brush: clean your teeth in 10 seconds

When you look up a list of the most important inventions in recent centuries, the toothbrush always appears due to its significance to our overall health. It’s no surprise then that a toothbrush that allows you to brush your teeth in less than 10% of the time it usually takes was one of the big hits at CES this year.

The toothbrush achieves its task by cleaning an entire row of teeth in one go. It works by inserting the toothbrush in the mouth, biting on it to activate, then waiting five seconds while it brushes the entire row of teeth. The brush can then be flipped to clean the other row for another five seconds.

While aesthetically the brush doesn’t look particularly appealing, for people with disabilities it has the potential to be significant. People with a mobility impairment often find tasks such as brushing teeth challenging, so this simple and time-saving process is likely to be helpful for individuals and carers of people with disabilities as no rapid movement is required.

Samsung Selfie Type invisible keyboard

Recently I was setting up an Android TV box and found it difficult as I couldn’t set up the accessibility features until I had entered in my account information. As I’m legally blind, the on-screen keyboard wasn’t much help to me and I ended up having to hunt down a USB keyboard so I could manually type in my credentials. This is just one example of where the Samsung Selfie type keyboard could prove very useful for people with disabilities.

Using the camera in your smart device, you can put your fingers on a nearby surface and start typing as if you were using a keyboard. The camera calculates the location of your fingers on a QWERTY keyboard and starts to input your keys selections. While accuracy may vary, people at CES that have tested the prototype report that after a short bit of training, the virtual typing becomes reasonably accurate. The idea that I always have a keyboard available is something I personally find very exciting when assistive technologies on smartphones and other devices aren’t always available in every situation.

Code Jumper

There was also several disability-related benefits to products that were winners for the Best of Innovation awards.

Code Jumper is one such innovation which was developed by Microsoft and the American Printing House for the Blind (APH). It works by putting code blocks using audio to represent sequencing and variables to teach people who are blind and vision impaired how to code. This may improve employment opportunities for people who are blind and is a very exciting initiative.

Norm Glasses

Another interesting product is the Norm Glasses which contain a computer within the glasses. The accessibility aspects of this is that they have the ability to display captions during video playback and are based on Android so it contains basic smartphone capabilities such as the Google assistant and turn-by-turn navigation which has the potential to bring in augmented reality in an accessible way. Still very early days in this space but certainly the potential for real-time captioning and audio navigation could open new doors for people with disabilities in engaging with the environment.

NextMind

Perhaps one of the most interesting devices from CES 2020 this year is more about its future potential for people with disabilities than what it is currently able to achieve. The Next Mind allows for thought control interaction with virtual and augmented reality. It works by translating thoughts into commands which has a huge potential for supporting people with mobility, speech and cognitive disabilities to simply think about where they want to go or do and the command is represented in the visual interface. While it will also be some time before this is something that could be used everyday, its potential for a variety of disability groups could be groundbreaking.

That’s just some of my personal picks form CES 2020 this year. For in-depth coverage, please refer to the CES 2020 section of CNet website.

The Centre For Accessibility Australia is a joint project by Media on Mars, DADAA and Dr Scott Hollier and is funded by the Department of Communities, Disability Services.

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