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The best assistive tech gadgets to create an equitable workforce

My picks for the best assistive technology can help employers accommodate disabilities in the workplace and foster a more inclusive environment.
Written by Sherin Shibu, Contributor
Reviewed by Min Shin
AngelSense Assistive Technology Watch | The best assistive technology overall
angelsense
AngelSense Assistive Technology Watch
The best assistive technology overall
View now View at Amazon
GlassOuse hands-free mouse | The best assistive technology for tech workers
glassouse
GlassOuse hands-free mouse
The best assistive technology for tech workers
View now View at Amazon
Access ramps | The best assistive technology that employers can implement
access-ramp
Access ramps
The best assistive technology that employers can implement
View now View at Amazon
OrCam | The best assistive technology for visual impairments and learning disabilities
orcam
OrCam
The best assistive technology for visual impairments and learning disabilities
View now View at Walmart
Avantree Aria Me headphones | The best assistive technology for the hearing impaired
avantree-aria-me
Avantree Aria Me headphones
The best assistive technology for the hearing impaired
View now View at Amazon

In March, Twitter CEO Elon Musk put a disabled, then-terminated Twitter employee on blast for claiming that he had a disability that prevented him from typing. Musk not only publicly broadcasted his employee's disability, which meant that the employee had to explain himself on Twitter after being vilified by Twitter's CEO, but Musk also made light of the disability as "an excuse." In reality, Haraldur "Halli" Þorleifsson was reshuffled from a senior director role to a hands-on designer role in Twitter's many layoff rounds, and his disability was not fully considered in that shift.

Even though Musk later apologized for his "misunderstanding of the situation," the situation itself highlights the misconceptions that employers have about people with disabilities. 

Many people with disabilities can thrive in a workplace with clear communication and the right accommodations. This is where assistive technology -- the devices, equipment, and software that can help people with impairments -- comes in. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 26% of adults in the United States have some type of disability. The CDC further points out that the highest affecting impairments are those of mobility, cognition, independent living, hearing, vision, and self-care. 

Also: Scholarships for students with disabilities 

Here are the best assistive technology devices to consider for people living with disabilities, compiled from what's currently available. I've considered these devices from multiple perspectives, including those of parents, tech employees, employers, students, and more. The alternatives section at the end of this piece showcases cutting-edge tech. 

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Continuous, accurate, reliable tracking
  • Does not have the ability to record audio or video
  • Alerts when the person wanders outside of safe spaces
Cons
  • Monthly subscription required
  • Different school districts have different regulations around the use of AngelSense in schools
More Details

AngelSense features: GPS tracker | 1.39 x 1.87 x 0.66 inches | Audible device alarm | Intelligent iAlerts | Assistive speakerphone | 30-day 100% money back guarantee 

There are a number of smartwatches out there that can help the lives of people with disabilities, but this watch in particular is designed for everyone, including kids, teens, adults, and seniors, and it mitigates the effects of multiple impairments. Cognitive issues affect 10.9% of those with disabilities and independent living issues affect 6.4% according to the CDC

The AngelSense watch ensures that you can talk to your loved ones and make sure they're doing well at any time. There's an SOS call button on the device that they can press just in case they need you. You can customize the watch and receive intelligent alerts when unexpected situations arise. For example, if someone usually takes a certain route, the AngelSense auto-learns that route and alerts you if they depart early. There's also an assistive speakerphone button that lets you reach your loved one even if they can't press buttons. 

This device is a phone, so you'll have to pay a $50 monthly subscription for it. You get free service for your first month as you try it out, and you can return it within that time frame if you don't like it. The service includes a SIM card, unlimited live tracking, an assistive speakerphone with 60 voice minutes per month, and more.

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Intuitive design
  • Lightweight
  • Comes with charging cable
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Does not come with wall charging adapter
More Details

GlassOuse hands-free mouse features: Connects via Bluetooth | Wireless | Hands-free | Three buttons | One lithium battery required and included | 9.1 ounces 

If you have to constantly hold a mouse and you have mobility issues, the Glassouse hands-free mouse is a game changer. You slip the device on like you would a pair of glasses, and it connects via Bluetooth to smartphones, laptops, tablets, and smart TVs so that you can navigate the cursor by moving your head instead of moving a limiting mouse.

The price tag of this device is high, but it can track even the smallest head movements. 

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Addresses mobility impairments
  • Can purchase according to budget and need
  • Ramps could go on different locations
Cons
  • Installation and purchase costs can be high, depending on what length you need
More Details

Access ramp features: Available in several sizes | Usually made of aluminum | Can be portable or installed in place | Comes in kit form or needs professional installation | Can come with railings | Suitable for entryways, doorways, thresholds, etc. 

This assistive technology is inspired by Halli's initiative to build 1,500 ramps in Iceland in four years, with 450 ramps installed to date. Mobility impairments affect 11.1% of people with disabilities in the U.S. so it's a good option to have a ramp in place or a portable ramp if you're an employer with a physical office. 

When it comes to building construction, I've often heard it said that people design for how they see themselves interacting with a space, and not for every person that could enter that building. If you're in a position to design, build or add to a home, consider a small access ramp as well. 

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Reads full pages of text
  • Can find renewed versions for less
  • Can be activated with voice commands
Cons
  • Nearly $2,000
  • Not for people with moderate to severe visual impairment
  • Reads from left to right, so cannot process columns well
More Details

OrCam features: Bluetooth connectivity | Voice commands | 1.57 ounces | One battery required | Reads entire pages of text | Can read from any surface, including bills and groceries  

The OrCam is a handheld AI reader for people with visual impairments and learning disabilities. The body of the device consists of a trigger button, a two-laser targeting option, an LED light, a smart camera, volume buttons, and a power button. You can activate the OrCam with voice commands now, adding another layer of accessibility. 

The device converts text from any surface into audio that you can listen to through the built-in speaker or a connected Bluetooth device of your choosing. It works by a user positioning four angled red lights onto a surface to the outer corners of the text that they want to read. The device takes a picture of the surface and reads it out loud. Within a larger text, you can ask for what you need: "Read the headlines," or "Start from" a specific section (like "Order total" in a receipt). 

You don't need an internet connection to use the OrCam, and you can use it to read in any environment, no matter what the lighting. This device works well for students and anyone with reading difficulties.

The OrCam won the CES Best of Innovation Award in 2021 in the accessibility category. 

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Premium audio quality
  • Optimized audio across unlimited devices
  • Personalized hearing profile
Cons
  • Can be fragile
  • Hinges break easily
More Details

Avantree Aria Me headphones features: Qualcomm chipset | Detachable mic | HD audio at 24 bits | Bluetooth | Low latency | Rotating ear cups 

According to the CDC, 5.7% of those with disabilities in the U.S. have hearing disabilities. The Avantree Aria Me are special headphones that help people with mild hearing loss by customizing the audio they listen to in order to match their unique hearing profile. 

Calibrate your Aria Me headphones through the Avantree Audio app to create your hearing profile. When you complete this step, your audio experience will match your profile, across all of the devices that you connect to with your headphones. The headphones feature advanced built-in active noise canceling that filters out ambient noise, HD audio, and a detachable mic with an instant mute switch.

What is the best assistive technology?

The AngelSense watch is the best assistive technology because it could be a safety net for a wide range of people with disabilities. 

Assistive technology

Price

Connectivity

Dimensions

Portability

Battery

AngelSense watch

$99

GPS tracker

1.39 x 1.87 x 0.66 inches

Assistive speakerphone

One battery required, rechargeable 

GlassOuse hands-free mouse

$590

Bluetooth; Wireless

8 x 4 x 3.02 inches 

Hands-free, weighs 9.1 ounces

One lithium battery required and included

Access ramps

Varies

None;

Available in several sizes

Varies

Can be portable or installed in place

Not applicable

OrCam

$1,900

Bluetooth

Device + box: 3 x 0.83 x 08.59 in

Small and weighs 1.57 ounces

One battery required, rechargeable 

Avantree Aria Me headphones

$130

Bluetooth

7.48 x 6.89 x 3.15 in

Weighs 0.51 pounds

One lithium battery required and included

Which is the right assistive technology for you?

The right assistive technology for you depends on your specific needs and use cases. 

Choose this assistive technology…

If you want…

AngelSense Assistive Technology Watch

A smartwatch that will help you stay in touch with continuous, reliable tracking. It's designed for all age ranges.

GlassOuse hands-free mouse

To navigate your devices without using a mouse. This hands-free mouse tracks head movements instead of clicks and scrolls.

Access ramps

A way to increase accessibility for people with mobility impairments. Workplaces especially could benefit from this.

OrCam

To read from any surface, including bills, groceries, digital readers, and newspapers. This device can read entire pages of text.

Avantree Aria Me headphones

A hearing profile that adjusts the audio levels across connected devices to a personalized range. The headphones can help anyone with mild hearing loss. 

How did I choose these assistive technologies?

This is a list that features access ramps and smartwatches -- two very different things united under an assistive technology umbrella. I did that deliberately, to show that the definition of assistive technology encompasses a variety of products with different use cases. 

The products highlighted above, and under alternatives at the end of the article, are unique. However, they all serve a wider purpose of making workplaces more equitable and thinking more critically about established workflows. I think that bringing these technologies to your attention is also about bringing disability accommodations to the forefront of dialogues on equity.

I looked for innovation, affordability, and usability in many contexts when selecting each of these technologies. 

What is the most common disability in the workplace?

The ten most common disability claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are:

  1. Back/spinal injury (19.1%)
  2. Psychiatric/mental impairments (11.7%)
  3. Neurological impairments (11.7%)
  4. Extremities (8.1%)
  5. Heart impairments (4.4%)
  6. Substance abuse (3.5%)
  7. Diabetes (3.5%)
  8. Hearing impairments (3%)
  9. Vision impairments (2.8%)
  10. Blood disorder (2.6%)

What is an example of assistive technology?

The technology on this list classifies as assistive technology. One additional example is a keyboard with larger lettering to help people with visual impairments when they type. For organizations, assistive technology for the visually impaired could mean making sure that work tasks are magnifiable or able to be heard. Alternative keyboards or mice are also reasonable adjustments.

What is the main purpose of assistive technology?

Assistive technology helps improve a person's overall functioning and well-being. There's a focus on increasing independence, improving quality of life, and better enabling an individual to perform at their best. One of the technologies that I admire that does this is Liftware. It ensures that more people can eat with confidence, even if they have hand tremors. This is the main purpose of assistive technology -- to find solutions that bridge the gap between what exists and what needs to exist to improve the quality of life of everyone.

Are there alternative assistive technologies worth considering?

Yes, there are. In the section below, I highlight three cool assistive technology gadgets that have great potential in the workplace and beyond. None of the products below are monetized.

View at HableView at LiftwareView at CuteCircuit
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