Children make up the largest proportion of the population with intellectual disability, with around one-quarter being under the age of 15 years (ABS). Around the world people with other disabilities may include up to 18% of the population (US Census). The recognition that our community needs to integrate everyone, providing opportunities and resources to include everyone in worthwhile pursuits, has forced governments to create legislation to ban biased practices that reduce opportunities for the disabled. In some cases attempts to improve access to resources that create a path to life long learning have also been framed in law (Australian Disability Discrimination Act, The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, The Equality Act 2010 and the United Nations (UN) Convention on disability rights).
Technology has also advanced to the point that tools are being created to provide significant assistance with people with disabilities in areas including cognitive development; social learning and communication; physical rehabilitation and spatial/localization recognition (to list a few achievements). Exciting applications have already been implemented with greater success that was anticipated. Children with autism have happily engaged with play and social learning activities utilizing various AR applications that promote healthy social interaction (International Symposium on Mixed and Augmented Reality Conference 2012 and 2013). International studies have reported increased participant motivation, enjoyment, perceived improvement and exercise compliance leading to enhanced physical ability following the inclusion of AR and VR tools into stroke rehabilitation (Industrial research, New Zealand). Visually impaired people can look forward to using software which tracks objects and captures depth to provide auditory and haptic cues that describe a new environment (Google Project Tango). Potential workers with an intellectual disability can gain access to AR tools that engage with their environment to provide training, learning re-enforcement, and other work related information to ensure safe and efficient work practices (Spain, Augmented Reality for e-labora project).
The era of AR/Virtual Reality and AI supported systems and applications is here. Its initial usage might have been heralded mainly by AR/VR games, but the realization of a universe of possibilities now extends to enhancing the lives of people with disabilities. We have the impetus now to continue to develop systems that will greatly impact on people’s lives for the better. We must embrace the challenge with the excitement and enthusiasm it deserves.
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