Innovation 3.0: Wearables for Disability

Leveraging wearable tech for those who need it most

Written by Matt Grandoni, Creative

If you had asked me five years ago whether or not I liked kids, I probably would have changed the subject. It’s not that I disliked them; I just couldn’t imagine myself as a parent. A kid taking care of another kid? There was no way. Yet here I am, five years later, a father of two tiny humans that look to me to love and guide them through life.

Whether you’ve heard it from a friend, your own parents, or the man on the moon, it’s difficult to fully grasp what it’s like to raise a child unless you have one of your own. I never imagined loving anything as much as I love my children, and now I would do anything to protect them.

This is a sentiment that I’m sure is shared by most parents. Your kids are always on your mind, and you never stop worrying about their safety. After all, they rely solely on you to protect them, to help them grow and learn.

My wife and I are lucky. Both of our children are healthy and hitting all of their milestones. But what if this wasn’t the case?

A study published in the United States in 2012 found that approximately 1 in 88 individuals have some form of Pervasive Developmental Disorder. Translating these trends to Canadian demographics, we can estimate that there are approximately 352K people living with these impediments here in Canada.

So why am I telling you this? Every year ICF Olson holds an Innovation Challenge for the entire Toronto office to participate in. This year, the selection of which topics to focus on was opened up to staff. Thus, I began my research, but instead of focusing on typical client needs, I thought about how ICF Olson could make a difference outside of the private sector.

I first focused on mental health, which turned my attention to an old roommate that worked with intellectually disabled children. I was always fascinated with the stories she would tell about her day-to-day experiences, so I reached out to her and we had a quick brainstorm over the phone. I learned that a very prevalent and growing issue is with children with intellectual disabilities that tend to wander. What struck me was that many of these children end up injured or die from scenarios such as drowning, traffic accidents, and police brutality.

Thus, an Innovation Team was born. We began discussing wearable technology that might aid parents and caregivers in helping to prevent these types of tragedies from ever happening. A challenge we discovered is that communication styles, learning problems, social and danger awareness, and sensory issues vary greatly from child to child. It became clear that we need to develop something that is simple for a parent to control, while not being distracting or debilitating to the child.

As parents of children with intellectual disabilities will tell you, the job is an every day struggle. To provide some perspective, 49% of parents reported that a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder had attempted to wander or run away at least once after age 4. What’s more frightening is that from 2009-2011, accidental drowning accounted for 91% of US deaths reported in children with autism subsequent to wandering, as autistic children are commonly drawn to water.

That’s why our team is passionate about this topic. It’s not every day that you’re given the chance to help improve someone’s way of life, and possibly even save their life. We here at ICF Olson have the opportunity to impact these families’ lives for the better, and as a father of two myself, that’s a pretty awesome job.