Well-being technologies and innovations provide new opportunities for people with disabilities

Artificial intelligence, verticalizers and exoskeletons can make life easier for people with disabilities. And Norway's experience shows how no one is neglected and everyone has something to show to society

Industry / Bulgaria , Technology
3E news
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George Velev

The modern world is filled not only with challenges, but also with opportunities that people will be the first to master. And in the field of skills, these opportunities are becoming more and more. It is the same with the options that the modern world gives to people with disabilities - that each individual can show their potential to the maximum and realize that there are areas of the labor sphere in which a person can feel as comfortable as possible.

It may sound strange to many experts, but in Norway, for example, they do not use a word for a disabled person. There the focus is on what the individual can do best, and society provides the necessary set of means. In this way, everyone really wins - people have the opportunity to develop their potential, and society and the economy receive fresh forces and ambitious workers.

This is the root of the FAIR project - Fast-track in Adopting Innovative welfare solutions for Responsible business development. It is implemented in our country with the financial support of the Norwegian Financial Mechanism 2014-2021, within the framework of the "Business Development, Innovations and SMEs in Bulgaria" program and is developed with the expert potential of the Balkan Institute for Labor and Social Policy. Technologies for well-being and social innovation are key to addressing the societal challenge of accessible work and productivity for people with disabilities.

Well-being technologies are also known as social technologies or assistive technologies. It is a kind of innovative form of helping people with disabilities, the elderly or just those who need extra support to have a peaceful independent life. These innovative solutions are redefining the way in which health and social care delivery and overcoming personal functional deficits are approached, offering increased autonomy, improved quality of life and reduced burden for social and health workers.

The implementation of such technology in various business sectors can increase the health and safety at work, ensure independence and improve the productivity of workers with disabilities. Unfortunately, however, the use of these technologies in the workplace is a relatively new stage of development in Europe and still unknown in Bulgaria. So far. In fact, the efforts of BILSP and the Norwegian organization Fønix AS show the successful practices of the full integration of people with disabilities in various businesses. The Bulgarian organizations were presented with a series of good practices and support for individual cases where the use of social technologies overcomes the gap between labor rehabilitation and business results.

Experts have also created a new approach to co-creation, called a living lab, through which innovators in the field of well-being are demonstrated. In this nature study module, not only can new technologies be tested, but people can also get expert advice on how to improve their job opportunities using technological innovations, even artificial intelligence. You can learn more about the project itself on the BILSP page, as well as on the project's Facebook profile.

Impressive technologies

If we have to go into details regarding innovations, it can be said that Bulgaria has its leadership positions. We have already developed prototypes of exoskeletons, verticalizers (a type of vertical assistive wheelchair), phone programs for monitoring people's health status and a number of other technological products. All of them have one main goal – to make the lives of people with disabilities more pleasant, with all being full members of our society, with an equal chance for development. We are talking about changing people's thinking, their abilities, and not just them being classified as needing help. Help is now coming from new technologies, innovation and the understanding that everyone should be able to fulfill their potential. In Norway, this is already happening, with Fønix, together with several other related companies, creating a new working environment. And so, they reduce the risk of job losses. They work with different people with disabilities, and the goal is for these people not only to be part of society, but also to be able to be useful with their work.

Bulgaria and technological innovations to support people

Several Bulgarian companies made impressive presentations during the conference. The first was the social entrepreneur Lyubomir Vasilev, who presented his verticalizer OMNIBOT. It is a truly revolutionary tool to help people with mobility impairments. The OMNIBOT assistant was created entirely by Bulgarians and is an absolute innovation not only on our market, but also on the world market. It is the first uprighting aid of its kind that is capable of moving in all directions, including sideways, has zero turning radius and provides easy transfer to and from the ring cart, home furniture or car. This device, in practice, allows people confined to a wheelchair to be much more autonomous in their actions. A new type of "off-road" verticalizer is already being considered to help people navigate streets and rough terrain.

Another type of "exoskeleton" that helps paralyzed or immobilized people was also presented to the audience. The creation is by Re4Life Tech and Petko Stoev, and the idea is to use a similar machine for the rehabilitation of people as well as the additional restoration of their functions.

Artificial intelligence is also involved in supporting people with deficits. In Norway, as it turned out, all kinds of ways are being sought for people to get involved in the work environment and be useful to themselves and society. The role of artificial intelligence here can also be of great importance and give new horizons for the development of employees. Companies are already developing services that enable people with various disabilities to more skillfully and easily operate computers and their systems. It's not just about giving voice commands what to do to the machine, but a series of actions that lead to real actions and communication between machine and human. The field of possibilities is huge and Boyan Sheitanov's startup Astea Solutions has set out to explore it.

Another software company - Rumen Sprostranov's NeoLife uses the most modern medical achievements to create a complete electronic file of the person with the entire history of the various traumas and diseases that the person has gone through.

The combination of data and human research makes it easier for professionals to access their needs. And artificial intelligence suggests exactly how a person should lead a healthier and more balanced lifestyle.

The anti-tremor technologies presented by the young programmer Martin Totev also impressed the audience. Its anti-tremor glove helps people with neurological problems cope with their daily difficulties caused by hand tremors. This is an impressive invention for people diagnosed with Parkinson's or other diseases that cause hand tremors. The mechanism of the Anti-tremor glove uses a special algorithm to read the tremor and transmit impulses to the muscle. As a result, it shortens and the tremor is neutralized, explains the entrepreneur. What is unique about his product is the way it neutralizes shaking – it has a combination of high-tech innovative algorithms and stabilization systems and sensors.

How important is this project in Bulgaria?

Technologies have developed a lot in recent years, Yordan Dimitrov, chairman of the Balkan Institute for Labor and Social Policy, explained during the event. He explained that the idea of all these innovations entering our society now is to lead to the creation of an entire technological ecosystem to support the development of technologies of well-being. The focus is on supporting small and medium-sized companies, as well as social entrepreneurs with startups. Our goal is to have an ecosystem of different organizations to support this process, added Dimitrov.

Another goal is to capitalize on knowledge to be disseminated, as well as policies and good practices in well-being technologies. The project has already created online educational courses about the benefits of technology and the opportunities for people ("CSR and equal inclusion through social technologies" and "Living laboratories and technologies of well-being").

For companies, FAIR is valuable because these practices supporting people with disabilities may be paramount to corporate social responsibility. Through them, not only the image of the company is improved, but also the productivity and confidence of the people.

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