2015: The Year That Wearables Start Transforming Lives?

It can be hard keeping up with the constant stream of new gadgets and wearables that make life easier or more productive, such as Nike Fitbit Flex or Microsoft Band. And with the imminent release of the Apple Watch it's set to be the year of the wearables. But what will that mean for people with disabilities?

Microsoft BandWhat are Wearables?

Wearables come with a range of sensors. Some can monitor the number of steps you walk in a day, measure your heartbeat and quality of sleep and in some cases even your blood pressure and sugar levels. Often the goals we set ourselves are ‘gamified’ to pit us against our friends or strangers to see who can walk furthest or burn the most calories.

This is technology at its best – both encouraging us to change our lives for the better and giving us the information we need to make those crucial healthier lifestyle choices.

Here Comes the Apple Watch

Despite the proliferation of wearable technology now available, geeks and non-geeks alike are hotly anticipating the imminent arrival of the Apple Watch. It’s due to hit the shops in the next couple of months and has real potential to transform the lives of disabled people.

Like its counterparts the Apple Watch will provide a wearable device that can be always with you, always on (battery permitting) and always connected. Just like the advent of the first mobile phones, it’s hard to predict at this stage how popular the Apple Watch or ‘smart watches’ will be but, if smartphones are any indication at all, we’ll probably all be wearing something similar in a few years time.

Apple Watch is released in March 2015Accessibility built in

One thing we do know at this point is that, like every other Apple product, the Apple Watch will be packed with accessibility. From Zoom (magnification for those with impaired vision) to VoiceOver (speech output for blind users) to haptic feedback for those with hearing loss, the Apple Watch will uniquely provide access to this rich new area of data collection and presentation like no other wearable has to date.

What consumers get with Apple devices is an ‘eco-system’ of products that interconnect with each other. It doesn’t really matter what device you are using, Apple devices share information, data and settings.

Thinking of software and technology as an eco-system is a relatively new concept for those outside the tech world; and whilst it's not just Apple designing their products this way, it's currently only Apple that are truly including people who need a bit of help with accessibility.

Eco-systems and information hubs

A technology eco-system offers us a whole new way to input data into a personal ‘information hub’. And that hub could be accessed on your phone, your desktop, tablet or your wrist. Then, the information you’ve inputted might even be stored in the cloud and shared with health professionals and others depending on your needs. Imagine if you could share your latest blood pressure readings with your GP without having to book an appointment or even remembering that you have to take it. And people with disabilities are among those who would benefit most.

This year will see an escalation in such devices and their rival ecosystems vying for our attention, driven in no small part by the expected popularity of the Apple Watch. The technology is becoming much more familiar, people are beginning to get used to the idea of wearable, interactive technology and are looking to technology to solve some of the problems of modern life.

Watches that talk to your fridge...

Hand-in-hand with wearables will come a rapid extension of smart devices into the home. People can already connect to and interact with a vast array of ‘things’ from the TV to the home security and lighting system. Some refrigerators can even tell you the calorific content of the food you’ve chosen, let you know when you’ve run out of milk or if you need to buy more green vegetables.

Imagine if your fridge was connected to the pedometer in your watch, it might even let you enjoy a piece of cheesecake if you’ve completed the right number of steps for the day. Now imagine if your cooker could talk to you and tell you when it had reached the correct temperature, it might prevent a blind person from burning their dinner. Imagine if the spy-hole in your front door had face-recognition technology built in, how helpful that would be for someone with dementia who lives alone?

Smarter tech can transform lives

Personalised technology eco-systems will soon be able to support some of the most complex needs in our society and, with rapid uptake of such technology in the mainstream, specialist solutions will become more affordable than ever before.

For disabled and older people the smart home will deliver greater choice, control, piece of mind and independence. Technology will continue to rapidly change and diversify, and at the same time will continue to help change lives for the better.