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Technology among disabilities

By Anna Yue Dec. 14, 2023

One might not think much about daily activities such as walking to school, driving a car or simply talking. But for 13% of the American population, these activities may be unachievable for them as they are challenged with disabilities such as impaired hearing or sight, obstructing them from performing their daily tasks and participating in sports. As technological advancements increase, however, many disabled people’speoples’ athletic dreams have been fulfilled. Devices created to support disabled athletes are available in many sports and target various types of disabilities.

Simon Wheatcroft had done the ‘impossible’ using one of these technological assistants. An avid runner, he suffered from a degenerative eye disease that left him blind at the age of 17, BBC News describes. While Wheatcroft was blind, he began running in his backyard, slowly progressing onto roads and streets, memorizing objects along the way to navigate himself through his neighborhood. Wheatcroft persisted through his struggles and advanced to running marathons all around the world; he eventually partnered with IBM in the creation of the app eAscot, which enabled him to attempt a 155.3 mile ultra-marathon across the Namibia desert.

eAscot uses satellite navigation and sensors to pinpoint the precise location of the smartphone and sends signals through various sounds. For example, a high-pitched beeping informs the phone user that he or she is straying right of the designated course, while a low-pitched one informs the user that he or she is straying left. A series of rapid high or low-pitched beeping signals that the runner had diverged significantly from the planned path.

Beyond running, technology has also been used to increase accessibility in golf. The Daily Record describes the Paragolfer as a three-wheeled device that can transport wheelchair users to the proper position to play golf—this machine is also applicable in archery and fly fishing, a sport that requires most participants to stand within the water. Paragolfer controls are similar to those of an electric wheelchair, minimizing the learning curve between transitioning from one to the other. There are various Paragolfer-equipped golfing sites scattered throughout the U.S. as well as other countries such as Scotland and Canada.

“Technology empowers disabled people to improve by themselves through hard work and dedication. It rekindles their hope of being successful athletes like many others,” Junior Via Drewery said.

Assistive technology has also been incorporated into team sports. The football team of Gallaudet University, a school of the deaf and hard-of-hearing located in Washington D.C., addressed the problem of miscommunication between players and coaches with an augmented reality (AR) screen placed inside the quarterback’s helmet. After the coach selects a play on his or her tablet, the information is transmitted directly to the AR screen, allowing players to fully understand the play despite their impaired hearing. With more efficient communication, players no longer have to make eye contact with the coach to receive a signal. Furthermore, this technology reduces the possibility that opponents can read the team’s communications compared to if the coaches were using sign language.

Despite this successful solution to hearing disabilities among football players, college football generally does not allow helmet-based communication systems. As reported by NPR, Gallaudet University has only used this AR technology once in an official NCAA game meant to be a trial run by the league. Debates about which technologies to help the disabled should be permitted in competitive sports have arisen. While many professional competitions do not allow these technologies, similar to the NCAA, many are advocating for a reversal of these rules to ensure equality of opportunity in sports.

“Anyone who wants to participate in competitive sports should be given an equal chance to. Technologies create a fairer competitive environment, so as long as they do not provide an unreasonable advantage to one side, they should be allowed,” Senior Jessica Burriesci said.

As technology continues to develop and inclusivity in competitive sports increases, perhaps disabled people will one day have the same chances as others to participate in high-level athletics.


About the Contributor

Anna Yue

staff writer

Anna Yue is a sophomore staff writer for The Charger Account. During her free time, she enjoys crocheting, sleeping, watching dramas, listening to music and reading web novels,

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