Australian disability groups are embracing technology to provide support to people with disability and breakdown barriers in the community.
Launched on World Down Syndrome Day, Down Syndrome Australia’s ‘Ask About Down Syndrome’ app is a world first. The app, which provides information about Down syndrome, was co-designed by people with Down syndrome.
“Listening to people with Down Syndrome about their experiences is key to breaking down barriers and tackling the stigma experienced by so many people with Down syndrome in the community,” Dr Ellen Skladzien, CEO of Down Syndrome Australia.
The app features people with Down syndrome talking about what community inclusion means to them. They also talk about the barriers they face and how those barriers can be broken down. In addition to the own voices, the app features links to resources supporting and promoting inclusion.
Technology provides practical support for teenagers
Providing practical support is the driving force behind a new website for teenagers on the autism spectrum. The website aims to help teenagers ‘cultivate a sense of belong and the ability to regulate emotions in the face of stress’. It was developed by the Queensland University of Technology, in partnership with Autism CRC and Positive Partnerships.
Young Australians on the Autism spectrum experience higher rates of anxiety and depression. Research suggests that of autistic people aged 15-25 years old, 53% experience anxiety and 29% experience depression. These numbers are significantly higher than for those without autism.
“Although we know that autistic young people have an increased risk for mental health problems, there is not much research on prevention and early intervention for this group,” explained Autism CRC Project Leader and Faculty of Health Professor Ian Shochet.
“With funding and support from Autism CRC and Positive Partnerships, our team has harnessed two protective factors—a sense of belong and the ability to manage emotions in the face of stress—to develop a multi-layered approach for improving the mental health of autistic teenagers,” Professor Shochet said.
The website also provides support to parents, caregivers and teachers.
Other useful technology and apps
There are now dozens and dozens of apps and pieces of useful technology on the market for people with disability. We’ve collated a few of the most interesting and useful here.
Be My Eyes
This free award-winning app connects people with a visual impairment with a community of volunteers. These volunteers can provide assistance for everyday tasks from reading product labels to matching outfits to navigating TV remotes. The app provides one way video and two way audio so the volunteers can see what is in front of your camera and provide verbal support.
Navability by briometrix
Navigating unfamiliar terrain can be tricky for wheelchair users. Not knowing what the footpaths are like, what barriers there might be and if there are hills or steps. That’s where Navability comes in. According to the developers, the app’s ‘algorithms use the wheelchairs manoeuvrability, the environment (gradient, surface and obstacles) and the user’s propulsion ability to calculate the best route through the landscape’.
Seeing AI is a free app that narrates the world around you. It uses artificial intelligence and your phone’s camera to give you a description of things you’ve taken photos of. It can help by telling you what’s written on a sign, or on packaging or a document. But it can also save people’s faces so you can recognise them, recognise currency and describe photos on your phone.
Need help with routines or looking for a healthy way to address emotions? Choiceworks can help. Designs for people with intellectual disability and people with autism, Choiceworks is a paid app and visual learning tool. It’s four main functions—schedule, waiting, feelings and feelings scale—are designed to provide clear and consistent support to foster independence and emotional regulation. The visual schedules are handy for breaking down routines and tasks into simple steps.
Wheelmap and Wheelmate
This pair of apps are super useful for finding wheelchair accessible venues. Wheelmap marks wheelchair accessible restaurants, cinemas, shops and public transport stops. There are currently more than 30,000 rates places in Australia. While Wheelmate provides an overview of the nearest wheelchair accessible toilets and parking spaces.