Hydrotherapy has proven to have great success for children with special needs. Hydrotherapy has proven to have great success for children with special needs. Hydrotherapy has proven to have great success for children with special needs. (Photo: Courtesy Beit Issie)

5 innovations that are helping people with disabilities

Israeli nonprofit’s programs benefit adults and children worldwide.

There are 1 billion people in the world with some kind of disability, and the nonprofit organization Beit Issie Shapiro is helping to make their lives a little easier. Based in Israel with partnerships around the globe in countries like England, Canada, the U.S., South Africa, China and Japan, they work with tech companies on developing solutions for the particular needs and challenges of the disabled. Here are five of their projects that are enabling people with special needs to live better lives.

Google/Sesame Enable touch-free smart phone

Sesame Enable will now be available for free to people who need it. Sesame Enable will now be available for free to people who need it. (Photo: Basti Hansen)

An app developed by Google and the Israeli company Sesame Enable has made hands-free technology available to smartphone users via the Sesame Phone, a device that turns on by voice-activated command. The phone’s camera tracks a user's head movements and allows them to navigate the phone’s menu, use applications, make calls, text and play games. People in Israel can get the device for free via assistance from Beit Issie Shapiro’s Go Ahead program, which may also soon be duplicated in other countries.


Improving app accessibility

City street themeThe creative atmosphere at Google's Tel Aviv campus helped spur new ideas at a Beit Issie workshop there. (Photo: Itay Sikolski/Camenzind Evolution)

Google invited Beit Issie Shapiro to its Tel Aviv campus to conduct a pilot workshop in 2014. The program had an immediate impact on the app developers who attended. They significantly improved their apps’ accessibility for people with disabilities. Another workshop will take place in March, and Google is planning to replicate the program at its campuses in London and San Francisco. In December 2015, Project Applicable introduced a professional guidebook to accessibility in app development that gives coders insight into what a visually impaired user would experience. Future versions of the book will expand to include other facets of disability so those specific needs can also be addressed.


Adaptive iPad keyboard

New tools are making using an iPad even easier.New tools are making using an iPad even easier. (Photo: Panatphong/Shutterstock)

People with motor, vision and learning disabilities often have problems using the keyboards that are integral to the essential devices we use every day. Beit Issie Shapiro collaborated with software company SAP to develop a keyboard for the iPad that uses changeable colors for keys, backgrounds and letters to make it easier to see and read.


Hydrotherapy services

Ever since its debut in 2010, the iPad has helped those with special needs.Since its debut in 2010, the iPad has helped those with special needs. (Photo: Courtesy Beit Issie)

The benefits of water for people with such disabilities as cerebral palsy, stroke damage, and motor and orthopedic impairments have been medically proven, which led Beit Issie Shapiro to open Israel’s first standalone hydrotherapy center in 1992. It now runs more than 120 hydrotherapy pools in Israel and trains hundreds of students in aquatic therapy around the world. In 2013, the Williams Island Therapeutic Swimming and Recreation Centre became the first facility to utilize iPads to communicate with cognitively disabled children in the water.


Special-needs dental services

Going to the dentist doesn't have to be a stressful experience for kids.Going to the dentist doesn't have to be a stressful experience for kids. (Photo: Halfpoint/Shutterstock)

Some people with disabilities like cerebral palsy don’t have the strength or skill to care for their teeth properly, and that neglect can lead to bigger problems. In 1989, Beit Issie Shapiro opened the Naomi and Shimon Ditkovsky Dental Clinic, Israel’s first non-hospital dental facility catering specifically to patients like these and children with developmental conditions like autism, for whom dental procedures may be particularly stressful. It introduced a form of therapy called Snoezelen that includes soothing music, soft lighting, pictures projected on the ceiling, bubble-filled tubes and a comforting weighted vest to “hug” the patient. It proved so effective in reducing anxiety and the overall experience that researchers at the University of Southern California and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles are conducting a pilot study of the method in the hopes of implementing the program here as well.

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