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Smartwatches as Assistive Technology

Written by Nicole Natale, MS, CCC-SLP, ATP, CREC Resource Group

There is no denying the rise in popularity of wearable technologies, especially smartwatches. The market is saturated with many devices that have a multitude of features. Smartwatches provide many benefits to people with disabilities and can be used as part of anyone’s Assistive Technology toolkit.

Many smartwatches operate either from a connected cell phone or they stand alone with a separate data plan. The Best Reviews website has a comparison listing of the five most popular smartwatches on the market. Available across the most popular, most robust smartwatches, the features that can help anyone include:

  • Benefits for executive function issues, such as auditory and haptic reminders, some with video as well; calendar and appointment reminders; alarms; visual schedules and prompts; and curation and capturing of information for later (using voice commands or memos).
  • Health rewards, such as fall detection, heart monitoring and mindfulness.
  • Expressive communication rewards, such as speech-to-text messaging, text-to-speech content reading, and 3rd-party apps for communication, such as Proloquo2go and Proloquo4text for iOS.
    Location tracking with GPS and auditory/haptic maps information when walking.

There are many third-party apps to choose from for smartwatches, including Fantastical 2 for Apple Watch (combines Reminders and Calendars information), Just Press Record (voice memos), and Google Keep (a cross-platform with tools for reminders, lists and storage of information, including website curation). Check out Dr. Luis Perez’s webinar on wearables as assistive technology for an excellent overview of wearables and their uses.

While many of these options are geared more toward adults and older children, younger children and people with intellectual disabilities may also benefit from more simplified smartwatch technology, particularly if a cell phone is not an option. Some popular options include the Kidizoom Smartwatch from VTech and the Doki. T3 has a current article on wearable technology for children. Many of these smartwatches and fitness trackers can voice and/or video call; message; provide GPS locators and safe zones (caregivers can set up an acceptable range for individuals to roam and if they leave the area, the caretaker will be notified); calendars; reminders; photo-taking; fitness information; and emergency SOS alerting.

Smartwatches and wearable technologies have opened up a host of possibilities for many people. They can help any individual become more independent and achieve their potential. This article only touches on the capabilities of these devices. The possibilities of further feature improvements are endless!