Improving accessibility for TBI survivors

accessiBe News

In honor of Brain Injury Awareness Month, we’re sharing how technology can improve accessibility for people with a traumatic brain injury.

accessiBe Team

Every nine seconds, someone in the United States experiences a brain injury. These injuries that impair the brain and other organ systems, can evolve into lifelong disabilities. 

In honor of Brain Injury Awareness Month, we’re taking a look at how technology can help make life more accessible for people with a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

The impact of traumatic brain injury

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) can happen to anyone. Most often caused by falls, car crashes, getting hit in the head, and assaults, at least 2.8 million people acquire a TBI every year, according to our partners at the Brain Injury Association of Kansas and Greater KC.

“A brain injury is an injury that disrupts normal brain functioning,” Mary Ann Keatley, Ph.D., CCC: Speech-Language Pathologist, Neurotherapist, and Co-Founder & Board Member of Brain Injury Hope Foundation explained. “It can be caused by a traumatic injury to the head (e.g. blow to the head, whiplash injury, etc.). These are called traumatic brain injuries. There are also acquired brain injuries (ABI), caused by strokes, hemorrhages, brain tumors, infections, etc.”

Following TBI, people can experience changes that affect their thinking, language skills, ability to learn, emotions, behavior, and sensations. TBI can increase the risk of brain disorders including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and epilepsy.

Even after hospitalization and treatment, 45% of people with TBI continue to experience disability one year later according to our partners, Adeo. At least 5.3 million Americans live with a disability related to TBI, making it an immensely common condition. 

Despite its prevalence, there are a wide range of causes and treatments for TBI, and people with TBI vary greatly in their daily challenges and needs. Carla Sullivan from Daniel’s Music Foundation reminded us that “brain injuries are all distinct.”

“Using the term TBI is a label that immediately brings people to judgment. They think, processing speed, memory lapse, impulsiveness, and orientation. Instead, people need to scale back and focus on what this person needs to be the best that they can be. The brain is so sophisticated it constantly finds new pathways to overcome any challenges, but it takes time.”

Technology empowers TBI survivors

The advancement of technology has been a game-changer for people living with TBI. From providing treatment programs to enabling people to communicate more easily with loved ones, technology plays a large role in making life more accessible for those with brain injuries.

Dr. Keatley shared how computer access, for example, can make a huge difference in the lives of people with TBI.

“Typical factors affecting independence including physical impairments, light and sound sensitivity, visual impairments, psychological difficulties among others, oftentimes make it difficult for individuals to leave their homes,” she told us. “With computer access, it is possible to communicate with their physicians, obtain treatments online through Zoom (video call) platforms, and accomplish activities of daily living (e.g. order groceries, meals, and medications.)”

That’s why it's so important for businesses and service providers to invest in web accessibility solutions, which help open the internet to people with TBI. It’s also essential to make sure that virtual meetings are accessible to everyone.

In addition, people can use computers for treatment programs that help them with cognitive and language rehabilitation. Software such as Brain HQ, Luminosity, Happy Neuron, and Staying Sharp through AARP help those with TBI improve working memory, concentration, language skills, logical reasoning, processing, math skills, attention, and more.

Programs and apps for smartphones and watches are also beneficial. Some apps help people improve working memory and name recall while others aid with scheduling, time management, attention, or executive functioning. Talking watches can also offer support by saying the time out loud, or providing other important information such as medication reminders.

Tomorrow’s tech tools for TBI 

Technology has certainly come a long way in assisting people with TBI, but as awareness regarding TBI grows and technology continues to evolve, many people look forward to more advancements in the future.

Carla Sullivan would love to see a widget designed to help people remember key facts and information. “For instance, if you are on a website and you see a fact that you want to recall, say it’s a movie you want to see or a show you’d like to go to, if there was a way it could be voice activated and it would automatically populate that information somewhere that you can go back and look at as a reminder, that would be great.”

Additional advancements in technology could assist with better diagnosis and offer more treatment and rehabilitation options. This is what Dr. Keatley expects to see in the future.

“Future advancements will include more precise biomarkers that help diagnose brain injuries, more specific neuroimaging to identify the area of the brain and the extent of the injury,” she said. “New diagnostic and clinical treatments will help expedite recovery through hyperbaric oxygen treatments, stem cell injections, and brain implants to revive cognitive abilities.”

Building a bright future

Thanks to our partners for sharing information and thoughts about TBI. The work they do to raise awareness regarding brain injury and support people with TBI is invaluable. Together, we are working to advance technology to help build a more inclusive and accessible future.