Written by Nicole Scholz
‘Disability’ is complex and multi-dimensional. It denotes impairments, limitations on activity and restrictions on participation – a combination of medical and contextual factors. People with disabilities are a diverse group. Some are born with a disabling condition, others acquire a disability through injury or a chronic disease, yet others develop a disability in older age.
The health needs of disabled people vary depending on the type of limitation and the primary health condition. Some may result in high healthcare needs, while others do not. On the whole, however, people with disabilities have a poorer health status than the general population. Several factors contribute to these health disparities.
The way disability is addressed has shifted from a purely medical approach to one that focuses on maximum functioning and well-being. Assistive technologies to support people with disabilities have also evolved. They now cover sophisticated ICT, software, cyber-physical and stem-cell applications. A range of examples are provided from the five broad categories of motor, vision, hearing, cognitive and communication disabilities. They include non-invasive and invasive brain-computer interfaces, wearable devices, stem-cell applications, neuroprosthetics, humanoid robots and applications (apps).
The EU has funded several research projects on the development of assistive technologies under its research and innovation framework programmes.