Technological advances in the disability sector

RIDBC students regularly use iPads to enhance learning outcomes

Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children (RIDBC) presented ‘Technology advances in the disability sector’ at the Rotary District 9685 Conference, 23 February 2014.

RIDBC Chief Executive, Chris Rehn, was one of three RIDBC staff members who presented to 500 Rotarians about the ways in which mainstream technology is making a significant and positive impact on the lives of people with a sensory impairment.

“Today, the opportunities for children with hearing or vision loss are better than ever before,” said Mr Rehn. “RIDBC uses technology to improve outcomes for children, families, communities and professionals.

“Bionics are increasingly important. Most people are now familiar with the bionic ear – the cochlear implant. Where a hearing aid amplifies sound, a cochlear implant replaces and mimics the nerve function of the inner ear, recreating the electrical frequencies that the brain interprets as sound."

The biggest challenge to cochlear implant technology is now the accessibility of the service.

“Cochlear implant surgery is now a very real option for individuals with hearing loss,” said Mr Rehn. “Teaching someone to make use of sound and to develop speech and language is the next challenge.

“Due to the follow up support required, it is extremely important that cochlear implant support services are accessible. That is where RIDBC Cochlear Implant Program is different – we provide a seamless, end-to-end service, from diagnosis, through to implantation, then ongoing habilitation support.

“We manage every aspect of the cochlear implant journey - reducing the complexity of the process and enhancing outcomes.  We can even tune the cochlear implant via videoconference – ensuring families in regional and remote areas of Australia have access to this service with minimal disruption to their lives.”

Everyday access technology, such as the iPad, is combined with specialised access and orientation equipment to support people with vision or hearing loss.

“Straight out of the box, iPads have accessibility options built in. You can reverse the polarity of the screen – putting white writing on a black background - or enlarge the font with a flick of the finger,” said Mr Rehn.

“If Helen Keller was born today she could use braille to connect to an iPad via Bluetooth. The iPad could then convert that braille to text so that someone with hearing loss could read it on a screen, or someone else with vision loss could listen via speech output.”

Navigation technology also supports those with vision loss.

“We’re all increasingly using personal satellite navigation - we think it’s a great gizmo in the car. However, for a person with vision loss, navigating unfamiliar areas is tough. iPad and iPhone apps are now so powerful they can tell someone with vision loss how to find a train station, which platform to go to, which train to get on and which station they are approaching so that they know when to alight.”

“This technology is opening up access in ways that just weren’t possible before. Technology really is a fundamental game changer for people with hearing or vision loss and at RIDBC we ensure that we showcase and implement the very best of this technology within our constantly evolving service provision.”