I am sometimes asked about inventions for disabled persons. Patents are a good starting point as they offer a structured way to find detailed descriptions of how the innovations work.
The International Patent Classification contains a number of relevant classifications. These include the following classes or broad categories, which are mainly for the physically disabled. The numbers in brackets at the end of the definition give the number of patent documents for that class in the WO or â€śWorldâ€ť patent system, which began in 1978, and are links to a list of them.
A47G21/08, Serving devices for one-handed persons (17)
A61F4, Devices enabling invalids to operate an apparatus not forming part of the body (78)
A61G3, Vehicles adapted for transporting disabled persons or their conveyances (275)
A61G5, Wheelchairs and other chairs adapted for the disabled (1026)
A61G7, Beds adapted for nursing, stretchers for picking up disabled persons (1604)
A61H3, Appliances for helping disabled persons to walk about (492)
A63B71/00H, Games for handicapped persons (27)
B62K3/16, Bicycles for disabled riders (6)
G09B21, Teaching or communicating with the blind, deaf or mute (395)
Not all areas of interest are specifically covered of course. What makes the provision of appropriate classes much more complicated is that there are different degrees, and kinds, of disability. These could include being partially sighted, deafness, lacking a limb, paraplegia, cerebral palsy and so on. Equally, what the user might want to do will vary tremendously. What about adaptions to help horse riding ?
A61F4 is particularly varied with inventions such as the Mouth-operated input device and the illustrated Adjustable virtual reality system. This Swiss invention assists those using a virtual reality system where they are asked for example to extend their arms. The user may have difficulty in doing so, so instead of trying they see a virtual arm. The specification explains that it is particularly useful in "immersive" virtual reality systems where head-mounted displays and data gloves are used.
A grim indication of how patents can act as a reminder of history is that the A47G21/08 class has 30 British patents going back to 1917. Of these, 17 were in the four years 1917-20, clearly reflecting a wish to assist wounded soldiers in World War I who were unable to use cutlery.