Technology comes to the rescue for people living with disabilities

Light for the World

Light for the World staff handing a white cane to a visually impaired person.

Photo credit: Faustine Ngila | Nation Media Group

While technology has been blamed for entrenching social discrimination, many solutions are being devised to cater for people living with disabilities, as advances in the digital divide gain traction.

To ensure such populations are included in tech transformation, a new solution to connect, support and empower has been unveiled in Kenya.

The online platform, EnableMe Kenya, seeks to provide community oriented technological support and has been launched through a collaboration between Light for the World and other stakeholders.

The digital resource centre’s Tech Lead Iram Bahawal told the Nation that its core mandate is information and services provision, creating a community that will bring people with disabilities together to learn and inspire each other.

"Someone seeking to gather information about people with disabilities only needs to tap into the community as it will have a large pool of people with various conditions," she said.

She added that the platform will also be used as a research centre, especially for persons looking to know more about people with disabilities.


The solution includes a jobs and e-learning section, as well as a third party services platform.

According to Mr Bahawal, one of the organisation's main goals is to create a community of people with disabilities with the aim of fostering their inclusion into the wider society.

“It is a platform for peer to peer support, as well as a central point of sharing good practices.”

It will also enable people with disabilities to have opportunities for collaborating with interested players in both the public and private sectors of the economy.

"Companies or organisations looking to employ persons with disabilities need only to come to the EnableMe Kenya community and get suitable candidates. At the same time, anyone looking to give tenders to people with disabilities can also use the platform to get them."

She urged people with disabilities to take advantage of the opportunity and join the community to get such benefits and more.  The organization has also urged service providers that cater to people with disabilities to also join the community so that they can work together.

"There are no such platforms in Kenya where you can get people with various types of disabilities under one roof. This is therefore a first in Kenya," she noted.

 The EnableMe Kenya platform also includes news and information on several disabilities such as cerebral palsy, autism, chronic pain, mental illness and physical disabilities among others.

According to Mr Bahawal, anyone seeking information about any sort of disability or how to live with a disability will have unlimited access to information.

"The platform has information on most types of disabilities; so if you are in Kenya and want to know how to get help or are wondering how to improve your everyday life, this is the website for you," she added.

The platform can be used by family members or caregivers of people who are taking care and looking after people with disabilities to enhance their experiences.

New information

By simply visiting the website, users can get to know new information on any disability condition. Be it tips on how parents can take better care of their children who live with disability, or even nutrition and therapy for these children.

The World Health Organization says one billion people live with a disability – around 15 percent of the world’s population, and only 1 in 10 people have access to the assistive technology they need to live independent lives.

But by combining multiple assistive technologies in a single device, experts say mobile phones can be cost-effective tools for persons with disabilities to enable greater inclusion and participation.

A new report by GSMA says currently there exists 130 assistive mobile-enabled technologies and services globally that can increase the capacity of people to live healthier, productive, independent and dignified lives, allowing them to access healthcare, education and labour markets as well as civic life.

In Kenya, the report says, people with disabilities (PWDs) use mobile internet with similar frequency as those without disabilities, while, among smartphone users, PWDs have a higher daily usage of mobile internet at 63 percent than non-disabled persons at 56 percent.

“This highlights the benefits of smartphone features that enable more services than basic phones e.g. IVR for those with hearing impairments or speech-to-text commands for people with visual impairments,” says the survey titled GSMA 2020 Mobile Industry Impact Report: Sustainable Development Goals shows.

Expensive braille paper

Visually impaired learners in Kenya have also received a major boost following development of a portable digital device that eliminates the need of the costly braille paper. The gadget, Orbit Reader 20 can take notes, store textbooks and enable communication between braille users.

This means visually impaired do not need expensive braille paper and the time-consuming and tedious process of retrieving notes and other relevant reading content.

 The Kilimanjaro Blind Trust Africa (KBTA) introduced the digital device initially to learners in 2018 and so far it has distributed about 500 units to grade three and four learners taking the new Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC).

“So far we have trained more than 100 class teachers and school-based technicians on the use of the Orbit Reader 20 as well as their basic repair and maintenance,” said KBTA chief executive Suparna Biswas.

Users of the Orbit Reader 20 can switch easily and instantly between modes that include book reader, note-taker and braille display.

In 2018, Safaricom launched a braille smartwatch to enable blind people to use M-Pesa services without having to seek assistance from third parties.

In 2019, Starkey Hearing Technologies, an American global leader in conceptualising and manufacturing advanced hearing solutions, launched Livio AI in Kenya, a device that uses integrated sensors and AI to redefine solutions to hearing problems.

While most fitness tracking devices use the human wrist, Livio AI is meant for the ear to provide a much more accurate data and will be used to track and monitor the bodies and brains of people with hearing problems.

Language barrier

The device connects to Apple or Android smartphones to enhance listening experience, detect falls, ask questions, device location, tracks heart rate and reduces the annoying sounds from the environment.

To solve the language barrier experienced when people travel to foreign countries, Livio AI can transcribe and translate 27 languages via a connected mobile app.

The firm’s founder Mr William Austin said human beings need to show empathy to their fellow men and women who are incapacitated health wise.

“The greatest philanthropist is not Bill Gates or Warren Buffet. It is that ordinary person who comes to the aid of other human beings without expecting anything in return,” he told the Nation.


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