The term ‘assistive technology’ covers a broad range of digital tools which are used by many people. Generally, assistive technology refers to digital tools which can help people to perform and activities more easily and which can improve independence and quality of life. This is a broad topic area, covering consumer based technology, such as virtual home assistants or smart home equipment, and also technology which is classified as a ‘medical device’ and regulated by the UK Medical Devices Regulations 2002.
Assistive technology is used in a variety of different settings and for a wide variety of different kinds of support. Local authorities often are interested in trialling assistive technology projects to support independence and early interventions for the most vulnerable in their communities. For example, Cardiff Council ran a project where they gave smart watches to people who are at heightened risk of falls. The smart watches linked into a platform called ARMED by HAS Technology which collected key metrics and used this data as an early predictor of interventions. Care Providers are also exploring the use of smart watches and wearables. One example is the use of GPS technology in smart watches so that people can leave their homes independently but have support on hand (literally) if required.
The use of virtual home assistants such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home are increasingly common in social care – as they are among the general public. Alexa can be used to facilitate communication and reduce social isolation, to remind themselves to take medication or to add things to a shopping list. Consumer technology like Alexa and Google Home are increasingly being used by individuals and their families to help people to feel more independent and supported to stay in their homes. Local authorities are also increasingly providing virtual home assistants to individuals who are looking for social care support. There is an emerging evidence base that this can be incredibly beneficial for people, but additional research is required to understand how virtual assistants work for people living with dementia as it progresses.
There are also a wide range of different technologies which are aimed at supporting people with a specific disability. For example, there are a plethora of products available to help people with visual impairments or blindness. Some of these can be downloaded as apps on standard smart phones but there are also devices like Envision Glasses which can instantly scan text and read it aloud and even has the ability to recognise faces.
As there is so much on the market, it can be difficult to know where to start with assistive technology. The TEC Services Association (TSA) are the industry body for technology enabled care and have lots of resources and case studies which can help. Earlier this year, the National Care Forum launched the Hubble Project to help care providers to understand the benefits of technology and to showcase different types of technology. In the Hubble Project, you can see videos and testimonials from care providers on how they are using assistive technology in their organisations. For people who are interested in assistive technology which specifically can help people with visual impairments, Digital Social Care and Skills for Care partnered with Sight and Sound Technology and Vision Bridge to run a webinar series ‘Exploring the World of Assistive Technology’. These webinars include live demos of many different types of technology.