How will Google Glass benefit people with disabilities?

By: Laura Medcalf

Throughout the years, technology has gone from boxed and small (but very heavy!) television sets with faulty rabbit ear antennae with fuzzy picture as seen here


to sleek, lightweight flat screens mounted on walls with crisp, high-definition picture:

TV Time

What is arguably crazier to reflect on is how computers with limited functions once took up entire rooms:

First Modern Computer, 1950

which downsized into bulky, much smaller machines like:

ibm-5150and eventually into today’s portable technology:


Many experts are working on creating even more portable technology–but how can it become even more mobile than it already is?  The answer is wearable technology, which may benefit many, but especially individuals with disabilities!

Items such as Google Glass, the Pebble Smartwatch and Samsung’s Galaxy Gear watch are examples of wearable technology available on the market today.  Although people with disabilities are not necessarily the target audience of new technology, they most certainly have reaped the benefits of newer technology like smartphones, home automation and much more.

Developed by Google, Google Glass is one type of smartglass being touted as a “wearable computer with an optical head-mounted display.”  According to Kai Gradert, UX/Product Designer, “smartglass is more context aware compared to smartphones.  For example, the hardware knows what you are looking at, it knows your viewing angle, and it also knows that you have a display in front of your eyes and an audio output right next to your ear.  All those things are not a guarantee with your smartphone,” he said.

Quadriplegic Tammie Lou Van Sant talks about how Google Glass benefits her.
Quadriplegic Tammie Lou Van Sant talks about how Google Glass benefits her.

People with disabilities can benefit from using a product like Google Glass for several reasons:

  1. By using the built-in camera, GPS, sensors and audio output, those who are blind or visually impaired can navigate or experience their environment.
  2. People who are blind or visually impaired can tour museums.  Because of its advanced hardware, Google Glass knows the user’s exact location in the museum, the direction he or she is facing, and what is being viewed; as a result, it is able to provide the user audio commentary about what he or she is facing.
  3. People who have mobility impairments such as paralysis can obtain crucial information and have it read back to them without having to be tethered to a computer which may be inaccessible.
  4. The camera and audio output can help those who are dyslexic to read, for example, with the eye display pulling up image searches for words captured with the camera.
  5. Those who have difficulty communicating can use the built-in voice controls, eye display and audio output to express themselves.  Vibrations can also be used to communicate gestures or emotions.

Similar to any newer technologies, there is room for improvement with all wearable technology.  Once these complications have been worked through, many are hopeful that these new devices will work as flawlessly as smartphones do for disabled persons.

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