Event: Assistive Technology and Design

<p>Last week I had the rather lovely opportunity to speak at an event run by the College of Occupational Therapists (COT) looking at assistive technology and design. On arriving, I was very pleasantly surprised to see that I'd been billed on the agenda as the keynote opening, so no pressure there then! ; )<p/>
<p>But before I tell you all about the event, I thought a good starting point would be to explain what we mean when talking about assistive technology...<p/>


Last week I had the rather lovely opportunity to speak at an event run by the College of Occupational Therapists (COT) looking at assistive technology and design. On arriving, I was very pleasantly surprised to see that I’d been billed on the agenda as the keynote opening, so no pressure there then! ; )

But before I tell you all about the event, I thought a good starting point would be to explain what we mean when talking about assistive technology. I think the technology part of the term often conjures up images of telecare and voice-activated appliances, but more about that later. So what does the term assistive technology really mean?


As defined by a user group consultation at The King’s Fund in 2001:

Assistive Technology (AT) is any product or service designed to enable independence for disabled and older people.

For me this definition works well, as it covers the broad spectrum of products and services out there that can support people to live as independently as possible, something that Enabled by Design is extremely passionate about. This can range from the “low-tech”, such as crutches and perching stools, to the “high-tech”, such as electric wheelchairs and electronically automated home controls, with all manner of products and services in between.

Kicking things off, I talked about the Enabled by Design story, why assistive technology and design is so important and why we feel that the design philosophy of Design for All could hold the key to providing accessibility for the masses. To find out more, you can check out my presentation here:

Next up was Rachel Richardson-Wright, who is a consultant practitioner at Essex County Council and spoke about her work in a groundbreaking Right to Control Trailblazer test area. In a nutshell, Right to Control is a new legal right for disabled people that gives them more choice and control over the support they need to go about their daily lives. The scheme allows people living in a Trailblazer area to combine the support they receive from six different sources including Access to Work, Adult Social Care, Disabled Facilities Grant, Supporting People and Work Choice deciding how best to spend the funding to meet their needs.
Trabasack lap tray and travel bag
The following part of the day was devoted to assistive technology products and services. First up were our friends and founders of Trabasack (Clare and Duncan Edwards AKA @trabasack), which is a lap desk and travel bag all rolled into one. Their talk focused on the journey from spotting the need for a much less cumbersome equivalent to a traditional wheelchair tray, to developing, manufacturing and selling the product, topped off with an inspired Brett Domino Justin Timberlake Medley viral video featuring Trabasack. You can check out the rather entertaining viral video below, enjoy!


Ian Watkins from Possum, a company devoted to harnessing modern technology to empower people living with disabilities and older people to live independently, showcased a range of environmental control products. These along with telecare and communication aids, he described as Electronic Assistive Technology (EAT) and explained that a large part of EAT is about linking home appliances, fixtures and fittings, such as the television, lights or curtains and doors, to a single electronic controller, like a remote control or (series of) switch(es).


Following lunch Chris Cristou (AKA @mybilitychris) , director of Mybility, spoke about his passion for his ‘Four X’ all terrain wheelchair. Set against a backdrop of videos showing Chris navigating all sorts of situations, landscapes and conditions, including various sets of stairs (don’t try this at home kids!!!), you can see why this wheelchair is the one for him. Working as a gardener and living with multiple sclerosis (MS), the ‘Four X’ range of wheelchairs has, in his own words, been his lifeline. This is why he runs Mybility, to spread the word, making it possible for other people to own a ‘Four X’ wheelchair and share in his passion.

The next session was run by Lynne Allsopp, who talked about Access to Communication and Technology (ACT). I was really interested to hear some of the facts and statistics she gave including:

Fast internet access has become a legal right in Finland. (CNN, 2009)

She also talked about readily available inbuilt software accessibility features, as well as open source and freeware options. This all provided a good starting point for anyone looking to improve their computer’s accessibility, without substantial cost. I’m afraid there was far too much information for me to scribble down, so I will do my best to find a copy of the presentation to share on the Enabled by Design website.


Last but no means least, was Darren Awang, a lecturer from Coventry University, who spoke about three different opportunities to learn more about assistive technology and put this into practice. Coventry University currently offers two courses in assistive technology; MSc in Assistive Technology and Foundation Degree in Assistive Technology and has also developed an online Assistive Technology Learning Tool (ATLT) which has been endorsed by the College of Occupational Therapists.

I have to admit, as someone who has always enjoyed education, all this talk of assistive technology courses has definitely got me interested. So who knows, this could be the perfect combination for two of my passions!?! All I can say is, watch this space…

 

I really enjoyed taking part in this COT Assistive Technology and Design event, it was great to get the chance to meet occupational therapists (OTs) and learn more about what’s going on in the field of assistive technology. As I said to everyone on the day, I’ve been inspired by the work and support of OTs ever since 2004, when a disabling series of MS relapses left me barely able to walk or use my hands. So I’d just like to say a big thank you to the profession of occupational therapy in general, but also to Beriah Nelson, Senior Membership Development Officer at the COT (AKA @COTSnrOfficer) for all her hard work and for making this event possible.


Update:

As promised, here is Lynne Allsopp’s presentation on Access to Communication and Technology (ACT):