Rachel Brand, Rocky Mountain News; Colorado; June 10, 2005
Voice recognition technology that turns on lights and opens doors. Reading glasses that double the size of a television screen. A talking microwave oven.
Once designed to help blind, paralyzed and cognitively disabled Americans, such products now are finding a second home among seniors.
"The market for seniors is huge and growing, which means the costs can come down, and that's good for everyone," said Cathy Bodine, Project Director in the Assistive Technology Partners program at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.
An estimated 49.7 million people age 5 and older in the United States have a disability, according to the 2000 Census. The largest subgroup, 21.2 million Americans, has trouble walking, climbing stairs, lifting and reaching for items.
So, in the past 30 years, the number of assistive technology products has grown to 29,000 from 100, Ms. Bodine said.
Some products are complicated, such as a handheld device that controls a room's temperature and turns on the television. Others are small and simple: a talking thermometer, a one-handed toothpaste squeezer, a lever to grab a sink handle.
The landmark Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibited government, businesses and schools from discriminating against the physically and mentally impaired. It led to wheelchair ramps across the U.S.A. as well as a number of smaller changes: lowered drinking fountains, widened doorways and created accessible parking spaces.
A second law in 1998, the Rehabilitation Act, required that the federal government make electronic and information technology accessible to disabled workers and the public.