High tech benefits the disabled

Technology was the major theme of this year's National Disability Day, which fell on Sunday, as emerging technologies ranging from wearable devices to brain implants help people with disabilities better connect

with society, according to the China Disabled Persons' Federation.

National Disability Day cast a spotlight on a range of innovations aimed at helping disabled people lead independent and dignified lives.

These advancements included an artificial intelligence exoskeleton — a wearable, AI-powered robotic frame designed to enhance the physical abilities of the lower body.

The technology could potentially help tens of millions of Chinese with walking disabilities due to nerve damage caused by a range of conditions such as hemiplegia, paraplegia and cerebral palsy, said Shuai Mei, a Beihang University professor specializing in robotics.

She noted that conventional treatments are time-consuming and often have unsatisfactory results.

However, the exoskeleton technology has presented a shortcut.

"These robots help paralyzed individuals stand, walk and engage in smart rehabilitation training," Shuai said, adding that the devices provide high-intensity, repetitive training that improves walking consistency and effectiveness.

The robots also assist in daily activities by recognizing the users' intentions and aiding in tasks such as walking, climbing stairs and squatting, Shuai added.

Breakthroughs have also been made in individual brain functional segmentation research, which studies the brain regions responsible for specific cognitive functions or behaviors, according to scientist Liu Hesheng of the Changping Laboratory in Beijing.

Such expertise is crucial for investigating brain disorders, cognitive functions and variations in brain organization, he said.

Neuroscience discoveries offer hope for improving assistive technologies for those with disabilities, and as human knowledge of the brain grows, scientists can develop smarter tools to help those in need.

"Scientists are currently trying out ways to tweak certain brain circuits directly. This has led to some big breakthroughs in treating certain conditions," he said, adding that implanting brain stimulators — which replicate the activity of neurons and synapses in the brain — has shown promise in treating Parkinson's disease.

Brain researchers are also working on nonsurgical, noninvasive options to help conditions such as stroke impairments, cerebral palsy and autism, Liu said.

Other innovations that are improving accessibility for people with disabilities include intelligent speech-to-text technology; homegrown cochlear implants; augmented reality solutions for improved information accessibility for the hearing impaired; Braille and tactile graphic display technology enabling blind individuals to interpret graphics; intelligent prosthetics; and neurostimulation rehabilitation devices that target urinary issues in those with spinal cord injuries.

In recent years, China has increased its efforts in the research, development and application of assistive technologies for people with disabilities.

The Government Work Report by the State Council this year proposed strengthening the research, development and application of technologies in health, elderly care and disability assistance, among others.