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Ever since humans discovered that using a rock to bash things was more efficient than punching, our species has been steadily adopting new ways to make life easier. The wheel, fire, the Nubrella ... it’s a constant race against increasingly complex problems that we need to solve.
For people with disabilities, things are often a bit more complicated. So it’s pretty damn awesome when we see badasses take a look at the issues certain people face and say, “Oh, dude. I can totally help you out with that.” And then they do, with innovation that just wows us.
Prosthetic Arms That Can Be Moved With Your Mind
The use of prostheses has been traced back to as early as the 1500s. And like many human advancements, they’ve undergone a lot of changes in terms of materials and functionality. Comparing 500-year-old prosthetic limbs to modern ones is kind of like debating the transportation abilities of a horse and a space shuttle.
The core of the idea has always been the same: To create a substitute limb that’s functional in some way. But today, we’ve moved well beyond the image of pirates and into a technological age that has us thinking more along the lines of “cyborg,” and in the raddest possible way. Last year, after 10 years and $120 million dollars in research and development, scientists delivered the very first prosthetic arm that’s controlled using nothing but the wearer’s mind.
The science behind it is pretty remarkable, as it actually allows people to control fingers individually and receive sensory feedback. Granted, it’s not quite ready to be rolled out to the general public, given the bugs that need to be worked out and its hefty price tag. But there is no doubt this will absolutely revolutionize the lives of many amputees.
Johnny Matheny, the patient in the above video who was the first to be given the prosthesis to use outside of a laboratory environment, said his goal within the first year was to learn how to play piano with his new arm. And while he has had his share of difficulties with the new device, by god, he’s getting there.
OK, that’s just freaking cool.
A Wheelchair That Can Climb Stairs
The wheelchair is undoubtedly the greatest invention for individuals who have lost the use of their legs. Yet despite the proliferation of ADA regulations, there are still a number of very real limitations that people using wheelchairs face -- one of the most obvious being stairs.
Back in 2001, a chair called the iBot made its debut, which not only allowed its users to raise themselves to eye-level with people who were standing, but could climb stairs. Imagine that: a wheelchair that can climb stairs. Actually, you don’t have to, because here it is, in action.
Unfortunately, and as you might imagine, it was pretty expensive, so they stopped making them in 2009. But in 2016, Toyota joined the fray and said, “Screw that -- we’re making this happen.” So they partnered with DEKA, the company that originally developed the iBot, to do just that.
As of the time of this writing, the relaunch has yet to occur, but just knowing the technology exists and that some of the older models are still out there and in use is incredible. Hopefully it won’t be long before a newer, more-affordable version hits the market, giving people access to freedom they’ve never known before, and the ability to say, “Suck it, stairs.”
The Dyslexie Font
Developmental disabilities can be a bit harder to diagnose than physical ones. One of those is dyslexia, which as you probably know causes all sorts of difficulties with reading and writing. And it can be absolutely depressing for those who suffer from it -- especially with children and particularly if it goes undiagnosed for some time. Imagine being called on to read in front of the class when the words and letters don’t seem to make any damn sense.
One Christian Boer was diagnosed himself with dyslexia at the age of six. But even though everybody knew he was dyslexic and tried to provide additional support, it didn’t solve the problem of his brain mixing the letters up. So when he was in college, he figured he’d elbow this whole dyslexia thing right in the face by inventing his very own font that would help others like him not confuse similar looking characters.
For normal readers, having consistent font form is the ideal way for smooth reading. For people with dyslexia, that causes problems -- it’s easy to confuse a “b” with a “d.” So Boer developed a font he dubbed Dyslexie to specifically address that issue by intentionally not making the letters uniform. They still look the way they’re supposed to, obviously, but there’s enough of a difference that it really helps people with this learning disorder.
There are additional aspects of the font that are crucial, too, like capital letters being slightly bolder than lowercase ones. Of course, the severity of dyslexia varies from person to person, so it’s not an automagic fix for people with the disorder. But it certainly helps.
The Stabilizing Spoon For People With Parkinson’s
Sometimes, it takes fame to bring awareness to a very real issue. People like Muhammad Ali and Michael J. Fox helped shine a spotlight on the terribleness that is Parkinson’s disease, as did the movie Love & Other Drugs. Which ... you know what? We don’t really care how awareness is raised, so long as it is.
Parkinson’s is almost always associated with tremors, which can range from mild to severe, so it shouldn’t shock anyone that some very basic, everyday tasks like eating can be difficult for people who suffer from the disease. So it’s awe-inspiring to know that a spoon called Liftware has been developed to actually cancel out the shakiness that has prevented people from doing something as simple as enjoying their meals.
It works by detecting the level of the individual’s hand tremors, then shakes in a way that counteracts them. It’s kind of like fighting fire with fire. Of course, it’s not free, but if you can’t afford one, assistance exists to get one for as cheap as zero dollars.
One of the characteristics that differentiates humans from other creatures is the ability to produce and manipulate our voices to communicate in complicated ways. Sure, we’re not the only animals that can do that, but let’s see a dolphin explain quantum entanglement.
Our voices are actually generated by vocal cord vibrations from the air as it passes from the lungs. All of this happens in our larynges, sometimes called the “voice box” because ... well, it produces our voices. You can literally touch your neck while talking and feel the vibration.
Sometimes, due to cancer or trauma or other reasons, the larynx may need to be removed, which obviously results in an individual being unable to speak. And while we fortunately have things like ASL to fall back on, if there were a way for someone to actually get their voice back, that would be incredible.
If you’ve been paying attention to this article so far, you might have guessed that, surprise, we do! It’s called the electrolarynx, and it serves as a substitute for the vibrations of the larynx. The cool thing is it doesn’t require any complicated medical procedure -- it’s just a device you press against your throat to get your voice back.
And while the technology has existed for some time, newer advancements are improving upon it. Now, people can fluctuate the tone in their voices and use it completely hands-free.
Oh science, you’re so kickass.
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