Reasons & Remarks: Hidden Blessings of Technology

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News January 2019

While not initially intended for the disabled community, new technology often offers huge benefits for those living with disabilities

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When Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) was founded in 1946, advancements in technology for those with disabilities, specifically PVA’s membership, were few and far between.

I’m not saying that the folding wheelchair created in a garage by Everest & Jennings wasn’t a big deal in its day — quite to the contrary! What I am saying is there are still products coming from people who are working in their garages and innovations from multibillion-dollar corporations as well. Many of the new ideas from both these arenas make their debuts at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas each January.  

PVA Publications has attended the event for the past four years and will be there again this month. We find value in attending the event for several reasons, but first and foremost is the opportunity to discover advancements in technology that may enhance the lives of our readers.

Many, if not most, of the discoveries we make are of products not specifically created for the disability market. Often unbeknownst to their creators, some of these products have the potential to have life-changing effects for those with disabilities. There are a couple of good historical examples of products that fell into that area. 

One product that long predates CES is the power garage door. It wasn’t designed for people with disabilities, but no one can deny that it sure had an impact on that population. Another good example and a story I love to tell is about a coffee maker.

I was at a meeting at the PVA national office in Washington, D.C., in the late 1990s, and these great new coffee machines had just been installed in the break rooms. I loved them so much that I investigated acquiring one for my home. The company had just started producing them for home use and, at that time, they were only available through direct order from the company.

I ordered one, even in light of the fact that the coffee for the machine had to be purchased online, as it simply wasn’t yet being sold in stores. The machine was a Keurig, and the hidden unintended benefit was quickly realized by a close friend of mine in Minnesota.

Similar to many quadriplegics, Russ Osborne was unable to safely make or pour coffee from the then-commonplace drip coffee makers that featured a typical 12-cup glass carafe that held dangerously hot coffee. The mere act of lifting and pouring was nearly impossible and extremely unsafe for someone with limited hand function.

Along came Keurig with a machine that let you insert a pod and hit a button to immediately generate steaming hot coffee directly into a cup of your choice that allowed for safe handling. Did Keurig plan this? Absolutely not. Did it have an immediate impact on quality of life for a certain population? Absolutely. This is exactly why we go to CES every year.

From patio umbrellas you control with your voice to the continuing advances in smart-home technology, there’s never a shortage of mind-blowing concepts to share with you. The Consumer Technology Association runs CES and realizes this market opportunity is too big to ignore.

They issued the following statement on July 18, 2018: “Nearly one in five individuals today report having a disability, but this number will rise as the baby boomer generation ages. To help this at-risk population address the lack of accessibility in the disability community, many experts have turned to technology. Tech companies have entered into this market that represents $1 trillion in annual disposable income.”

There’s now an entire section of the show dedicated to accessibility technology and an increased overall awareness by CES and the show’s presenters of the importance of this market segment.

This year’s show takes place Jan. 8-11 at multiple venues around Las Vegas. With more than 4,400 exhibitors from all over the world covering over 50 football fields’ worth of exhibition space, we’re confident there will be plenty of things to share with you that can immediately impact your quality of life, as well as concepts that hold promise for the future. 


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Reasons & Remarks: Hidden Blessings of Technology


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