Wearable technology, or “Wearables,” was valued at $20 billion in 2015 and is estimated to grow to almost $100 billion in 2023, according to a report by IDTechEx analysts. Currently, the market is dominated by a few players, such as Apple, Google, Samsung, Microsoft, and Vuzix.
Wearables include items like glasses, headsets, pedometers, and watches. Most consumers use these products for fitness, fashion, communication, or news and social media updates. What is not often talked about is how wearable technology can enrich the lives of people with disabilities.
This guide will talk about the definition of wearable technology, how it impacts people’s lives, the advantages and disadvantages of this technology, and the potential uses for wearables to help people with disabilities.
Simply put, wearable technology includes devices that consumers can wear on their body. These wearables typically have convenient functions that make life easier. From watches to glasses, these products can complete multiple tasks, such as tracking activity levels, sending communications, and accessing information from the web.
However, not all wearables have these features. Some wearables have limited functions and are used for extremely specific purposes.
According to a wearable technology guide by Georgia 4-H, wearable devices use multiple sensors, microprocessors, and transmitters to perform several functions. These technologies make use of sensors to detect movement, position, temperature, location, sleep, and even mood to monitor users’ fitness levels and general health.
Wearable gear is equipped with microprocessors that “extract, transform, and load data to a transmittable format,” explains the Georgia 4-H guide. Transmitters upload the data gathered by the sensors and converted by microprocessors to cloud storage for further analysis and then for access to users.
Wearable technology first became extremely popular in the health and fitness world. According to Pew Research Center, one in five (21 percent) US adults use a smartwatch or wearable fitness tracker. They use their wearable gear to track steps taken per day, record miles jogged, and measure heart rate. Wearable technologies with advanced features can also monitor sleep patterns, food consumption, and calorie intake.
Used in congruence with fitness apps, smartwatches and fitness trackers provide a comprehensive report on the user’s activity levels and a glimpse into their general health. Wearables have helped raise awareness in users about personal habits and behaviors that affect their health and fitness. People who use fitness trackers are more conscious of how much exercise, sleep, and calories they are getting on a daily basis.
These technologies have brought major changes in the way people understand and approach health and fitness.
The impact of wearable technology in personal health is always talked about, but wearables have also revolutionized public health. Smartwatches, fitness trackers, and mobile sensors collect scores of data used for many researches that aim to enhance public health.
In a 2019 article published in Hopkins Bloomberg Public Health magazine, Vadim Zipunnikov, assistant professor in biostatistics and co-leader of the Wearable and Implantable Technology group, explains how they use mobile sensors to study how patterns of physical activity and sedentary time affect people’s health. They are also using data from mobile sensors to understand sleep and how it affects different dimensions of health.
Zupunnikov is also working with Kathleen Merikangas, adjunct professor in epidemiology and mental health and chief of the Genetic Epidemiology Research Branch at the National Institute of Mental Health. They are using wearables to gather data on physical activity and sleep patterns for over 2,000 people to gain a better understanding of depression, bipolar disorder, migraines, and other mental and neurological conditions.
The potential applications and benefits of wearable technology are bountiful. Wearables have forever changed people’s perception of health and fitness and molded health habits and behaviors. These technologies have also revolutionized healthcare and public health research.
While the rewards are plenty, wearable technology also comes with its own risks to both users and manufacturers.
Wearable technology offers many rewards, but it also brings about serious risks. It is essential to weigh in on the pros and cons before deciding to use a wearable device. Once a user’s data is leaked on the web, it is nearly impossible to erase it completely.
When purchasing any wearable tech, always buy from a reputable manufacturer that consistently produces high-quality products and will not use customers’ data for other purposes
For smartwatches and fitness bands, make sure to have backup watch bands and straps at home. When the current one breaks, you can get it replaced immediately, and it won’t disrupt your daily routine.
“Wearable technology has so much potential to enrich the lives of people with disabilities, not only giving them more independence, but also giving them a voice,” says The National Business and Disability Council at Viscardi Center.
Wearable devices allow people with disabilities to perform everyday tasks, like browsing the web, checking the weather, finding recipes online, sending emails, and using social media through voice-activated and gesture controls.
The use of wearables for augmenting the everyday healthcare, rehabilitation, and lives of people with disabilities, chronic conditions, and the elderly is nothing new. For example, people with limited hearing have long used hearing assistive technology (HATS) to enhance listening and communication.
New devices, however, are bringing more improvements to the lives of people with disabilities, as well as positive changes in medical care for all individuals.
Wearable technology has long been used to improve the lives of people with disabilities. In the coming years, more developments in this field are anticipated to further enhance the quality of life, healthcare, and rehabilitation of all people, including those with disabilities.
These advancements will include technologies that augment one sense to replace the absence of another. One example is integrated haptics in clothing and textiles that can translate sound to vibrations to let deaf people experience music.
More sophisticated screen readers, voice- and gesture-based control, and an overall smoother experience with wearables are some of the features we should expect in future wearable technology for people with disabilities.
Gelfand, Alexander. (2019). “How Wearable and Implantable Technology is Changing the Future of Health Care.” Hopkins Public Health Magazine.
Georgia 4-H. (n.d.). “Study Guide Wearable Technology.” Georgia 4-H. Retrieved on July 20, 2020.
Hayward, J., Dr. Guillaume Chansin, and Dr. Harry Zervos. (2016). “Wearable Technology 2016-2026: Markets, Players, and 10-Year Forecasts.” IDTechEx.
Jeffs, Tara. (2009). “Virtual Reality and Special Needs.” Themes in Science and Technology Education. Special Issue, 253-268.
Matchar, Emily. (2018). “’Superpower Glass’ Helps Kids With Autism Understand Emotions.” Smithsonian Magazine.
National Business & Disability Council (NBDC) at The Viscardi Center. (2016). “Technical Assistance Guide on Wearable Technology for People with Disabilities.” National Business & Disability Council (NBDC) at The Viscardi Center.
Vogels, Emily. (2020). “About One-in-Five Americans Use a Smart Watch or Fitness Tracker.” Pew Research Center.