Since assistive technology includes many products and devices, the term “assistive technology glove” describes different products that help individuals with a wide range of disabilities and needs. Some gloves are specifically made for people who use wheelchairs, while others are more high-tech devices developed to translate American Sign Language (ASL) into speech. Some products, such as the wheelchair gloves, have been on the market for a while, but the latter product is still in development.
For Wheelchair Users
People who use manual wheelchairs put tremendous stress and strain on their hands. After all, a wheelchair user’s hands are constantly in motion with pushing, stopping, and turning. This constant movement can cause friction and heat to the hands, which can lead to numbing and desensitization in cold and rainy weather. Many people in wheelchairs are also prone to develop blisters, abrasions, or patches of rough skin on hands. More seriously, nearly half of people with paraplegia are at risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome, a condition that causes pain and numbness of the thumb, fingers, and wrist.
Properly designed wheelchair gloves offer protection against skin irritation and damage caused by accelerating, braking, and maneuvering the wheelchair. This type of assistive technology glove can improve control and grip of the wheel rim. Gloves should be light and flexible, yet provide protection in cold, damp, or rainy weather. Wheelchair gloves should be made of leather or neoprene and rubber material for added grip and come in adult and children’s sizes.
For Gripping Difficulties
Grip gloves are not necessarily designed for people who use wheelchairs, but for anyone who has trouble firmly gripping and holding onto objects. Used by athletes with disabilities for holding sports equipment, a grip glove can be used in therapy for anyone with finger injuries. Grip gloves work with Velcro straps that secure the item in the hand with adjustable tightness and attach to a locking tab on top of the glove.
For the Hearing Impaired
In the future, a cool device developed by Carnegie Mellon students and an Electrical and Computer Engineering professor, will be a new assistive technology glove. Known as HandTalk, this sensor-equipped glove can translate ASL to spoken words on a cell phone. HandTalk allows someone who is deaf and uses ASL to communicate with someone who hears and does not use ASL. Sensors on the glove detect the finger gestures of ASL and communicate them to a Bluetooth module that relays the signature of these gestures to a smartphone. With a gesture-to-word translation dictionary, the smartphone turns the signature into text and displays it on the phone. Then, the phone reads the displayed text with its software that converts text to speech.
With this device, a deaf individual’s signs can be converted into speech, resulting in increased communication between the deaf and the hearing. Although this product was developed in 2008, it is currently being tested and refined to increase the number of signs it can translate.
Whether an individual wears a glove daily for wheelchair use or uses a grip glove to improve functioning of the hand, the right glove can offer comfort and make activities easier. Future types of gloves for people with disabilities may give additional freedoms and options, too.