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Wearable Technology for Multi-abled

Wearable tech for the disabled has been around for many years, with humanity always wishing to improve their lot in life and wearable tech finding a way to do so. Aside from the adoption of tools, some of the earliest examples of wearable technology were eyeglasses, invented between 1268 and 1300 CE. The next big revolution was the hearing aid, with ear trumpets coming into common use in 1600 and the electronic version in 1898. The adoption of electricity and computers enabled wearable tech for the disabled to take a quantum leap into the future, so why stop at the status-quo if tech can give you an advantage?

Smart glasses, such as Acesight, IrisVision, NuEyes Pro, MyEye2, and eSight3, help people suffering from eye conditions such as Stargardt disease, optic atrophy, macular degeneration and glaucoma to see. They work by using a forward mounting camera on the glasses and project what is in front of the wearer in high contrast or magnified display. Coming in at a high price point, we are still a long way from introducing 'super-vision' to those who wish to return to independent living, but the technology continues to evolve. More advancements have been made in the field of prosthetics after having stalled at basic limb replacement. Hugh Herr, a well-known rock climber who lost both his lower legs in a climbing accident in 1982 ended up pushing the boundaries of prosthetics. Having acquired a degree in bio-mechanics after his accident, he created new enhanced limbs that could help him climb even more efficiently than when he had the use of his biological legs. This helped to create the iWalk BiOM, a prosthetic which uses robotics to replicate the calf muscles and Achilles tendon. All of these examples of wearable tech have advanced leaps and bounds since their first inception, but, is the question of staying within the bounds of human ability a positive, or are we limiting ourselves?

With each iteration, we have found ways to improve our natural circumstances and enhance them, but this begs the question, when does enhancement become an advantage? These questions were asked when Hugh Herr again came to light, while he defended South African sprinter and double amputee, Oscar Pistorius. In 2008 after Pistorius was banned from competing in the Olympics, Herr was able to prove that Pistorius had no mechanical advantage over other runners, and was able to reverse the IAAF’s ban. In 2016, however, Markus Rehm could not prove that his carbon-fiber “blade” prosthesis didn’t give him an advantage in the Rio Olympics of that year. Perhaps the Olympics, as the great level playing field, are not the best place to test the limits of wearable technology. As computers become more powerful and wearable tech expands everyone's abilities, shouldn't we be stretching the bounds rather than trying to keep everyone in the same box?

Do we want superhuman abilities, or do we want to better communicate and relate to those around us? These questions are worth consideration as we work to enhance technology to assist those with disabilities and create a multi-abled world.

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