Improving Quality Of Life Of Disabled People Using Converging Technologies

G. Wolbring, U. Calgary, and R. Golledge, UCSB

It is understood that NBIC should be used in a way that diminishes the discrimination against disabled people, advances their acceptance and integration into society, and increases their quality of life.

The Vision

1. NBIC has the potential to give disabled people, and this includes many elderly, the ability to choose between different modes of information output, whether visual, audio, print, or others, as all of these modes can be offered routinely at the same time. It has the potential to change computer interface architecture so that disabled people, including those who are blind, sight-impaired, dyslexic, arthritic, immobile, and deaf, can access the Internet and its webpages as transparently and quickly as able-bodied people by means of, for example, holographic outputs; force-feedback, vibrotactile, vastly improved natural speech interfaces; and realtime close captioning. Multimodal access to data and representations will provide a cognitively and perceptually richer form of interaction for all persons, regardless of impairment, handicap, or disability. It will allow for more flexibility in the mode of working (from home or a company building or elsewhere) and representation (in person or virtual). Meetings like this workshop could easily take place within a 3-D virtual reality once the modes of interaction are available in real time and adaptable to different needs (see e.g., Even private conversations during the breaks could be easily arranged in this virtual reality. This virtual reality would be an alternative to travel. Multimodal input and output interfaces will allow human-computer (HC) interaction when sight is not available (e.g., for blind or sight-impaired users), when sight is an inappropriate medium (e.g., accessing computer information when driving a vehicle at high speeds), or when features and objects are occluded or distant.

2. NBIC has the potential to increase the quality of life of disabled people by allowing for alternative modes of transportation. One technique that could potentially increase quality of life immensely would be mobile teleportation devices. Teleportation would be linked to global positioning devices (see so that someone could just teleport themselves where they have to go.

3. NBIC will allow for improving assistive devices for disabled people. For example, wheelchairs, which so far haven't changed much in the last 20 years, could be improved in several ways: nanomaterials could make them more durable, cheaper, and lighter; nanotechnology can be used to improve batteries or develop alternative energy generating devices (such as small fuel cells); NBIC could increase wheelchair capabilities (such as stair climbing) and make them more intelligent. The resulting device would allow a person sitting in it to move in any direction, horizontal or vertical, without regard to obstacles such as stairs. It have no need to physically attach to a surface for movement (it could hover). It would allow for the exploration of rough terrain such as the outdoors. This kind of personal moving/flying device could of course be developed for all people. NBIC also might lead to functional artificial limbs, which might even be better than existing human limbs. The same is true for the development of artificial devices for hearing, vision, and cognitive abilities such as comprehension and memory.

4. NBIC will greatly improve the functionality and design of houses, allowing voice command, intelligent applications, etc., that enable disabled (and elderly) people to be more independent.

Figure C.18. On the quantum level this transport is achievable (Shahriar, Shapiro and Hemmer 2001). A mobile human teleportation device that can transport the person wherever the person wants to be would solve many accessibility and transportation problems.

5. NBIC has the potential to change the public space to make it much more user friendly and inclusive. Means will include IT advances to enable wearable computers for use in everyday living (e.g., finding when the next bus is due or where it is now); creation of smart environments (e.g., Remote Auditory Signage Systems [RASS] like talking signs, talking buses, etc., to facilitate wayfinding, business/object location identification, recognition of mass transit services, and intermodal transfer); use of IT and cognitive technology to develop voice-activated personal guidance systems using GPS and GIS; and multimodal interfaces to assist travel and environmental learning.

6. NBIC has the potential to improve communication on a global scale (e.g., universal translation devices), which would allow for a greater exchange of knowledge between people and a faster dissemination of advances in NBIC. The devices available today are not accurate and intelligent enough for use in day-to-day communication.

7. NBIC has the potential to help in the health management of disabled — and all — people. The Role of Converging Technologies

The converging of technologies is needed if a systematic approach is to be undertaken to use technology for the benefit of disabled people. Often the same tool will have to rely on more than one technology to be workable (e.g., a wheelchair needs improved nanomaterials science for weight reduction and IT and cogno-science for new forms of control, leading to a whole new type of moving device such as a personal moving/flying device.)

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