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Inclusive technology for Persons with Disabilities

Rather than the great divider, technology can be a tool for empowerment for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs).

This was evident from the E2Connect Forum 2018. Its second year running, the Forum seeks to raise awareness and promote the benefits of infocomm and assistive technology (IT/AT) adoption by PWDs.

Gracing the Forum was Minister for Communications and Information, Mr S Iswaran. He shared in his opening remarks, that it was in the Government’s interest for all segments of society to access and benefit from technology. More help will be given to PWDs to use technology to participate actively and fully in society in time to come.

Try Before You Buy

However, there have been barriers in realising an equitable society for PWDs.

“We have received feedback that the purchase of an infocomm and assistive technology device is a significant financial investment; and often, many tries are needed before one is able to choose a device that best suits one’s needs,” said the Minister.

To help PWDs overcome initial obstacles to empowerment, three satellite loan libraries in Singapore were announced. These libraries will help PWDs and Voluntary Welfare Organisations identify and trial IT/AT devices and software before purchasing them. A try-before-you-buy concept, the libraries give PWDs the opportunity to determine which IT/A tools will be the most useful and suitable for their needs.

The first three libraries are located at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Singapore Polytechnic and Temasek Polytechnic. These are in addition to the IT/AT Loan Library at SPD. The project is launched by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and SPD.

Launching the libraries at Institutes of Higher Learning are no mistake. Minister Iswaran said, “With these satellite libraries, we hope that more students with special educational needs will become more aware of the potential of assistive technology, and eventually embrace its use. We welcome more Institutes of Higher Learning to join this effort, to set up similar satellite libraries to benefit their students and others.”

In addition to the satellite loan libraries, six Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs) have benefitted from the enhanced IT/AT VWO Grant. Beneficiaries can receive up to SGD 100 000 in grants. This will help VWOs integrate technology into their programs. PWDs can experience more effective programs and engage more fully in society.

Ms Koh Li-Na, Assistant Chief Executive, Planning Group and Digital Readiness Cluster, IMDA said, “The loan libraries and VWO grants are some of our efforts to support PWDs to participate meaningfully in a digital society. Together with out partners, IMDA’s digital readiness programs support all segments of society to use technology safely and confidently in their daily lives.”

Digitally Enabled

Sebrina Ng, a second year student from Temasek Polytechnic’s School of Design, is a good example of how assistive technology can provide PWDs with the skills, confidence and motivation to use technology.

Since the age of five, Sebrina has had to use hearing aids. Users might typically face the problem of picking up undesired or static noises, making it difficult to hear clearly. Thankfully, assistive technology, like the Roger Pen, can be used to help people like Sebrina.

Of the device, Sebrina says, “The Roger Pen is a miracle to me as it enables me to hear as well as focus on a person’s speech.”

A handheld mobile device shaped like a pen, the device uses a cutting-edge wireless microphone to pick up the voice of the speaker. Via Bluetooth-enabled miniature receivers, voice is transmitted wirelessly into a user’s hearing aids either uni or omni directionally. Speech is clarified in both noisy environments whether at close range or a distance. All the user has to do, is point the pen toward the direction of the sound, or lay it flat to pick up surrounding sounds.

The Roger Pen was one of the many assistive technologies on display at the Forum’s exhibition space. Available for loan at Temasek Polytechnic Loan Library, it is also offered by SG Enable to organisations and their clients for trial.

SG Enable is an agency dedicated to enabling PWDs and building an inclusive society. Set up by the Ministry of Social and Family Development, SG Enable supports PWDs and their caregivers with relevant social and financial support, as well as assistance in the use of assistive technology.

A representative from SG Enable shared with us complementary products to the Roger Pen. The Roger MyLink, for example, is used together with hearing aids which do not have Bluetooth capabilities. A neck loop receiver, the device relies on the telecoil found inside most hearing aids. The telecoil picks up signals from a loop system which acts as an electromagnetic field. Users of Roger MyLink thus hear only the sounds picked up by the loop system’s signal. Undesired noises are cancelled out.

For non-hearing aid wearers, a Roger Headset is available to be used in conjunction with the Roger MyLink. With a 2.5mm stereo jack plug, the headset is similar to a pair of commercially available headphones.

For SG Enable, tech is a means to help PWDs become independent and eventually gain employment. Housed on its premises is Tech Able, an initiative which provides assistive device assessment services and showcases technology. SG Enable and SPD run the facility to promote the adoption of IT/AT among PWDs and employers.

The assistive technologies available through various channels in Singapore is testament to a growing movement toward an inclusive society.

Minister Iswaran sums up, “Ultimately, the true measure of a nation is not just about its economic achievements and the exploits of its entrepreneurs; it is equally about how that nation includes and cares for all segments of its society, especially those who may need more help. In this digital age, we all have a collective responsibility to ensure that every Singaporean has access to technologies and the opportunity to create new opportunities and possibilities for themselves.”

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