Johannes Kepler University, Linz, Austria
July 10, 2018
In July 2018, a group of experts met in Linz, Austria, for AAATE’s workshop dedicated to discussing ways to ensure excellence in assistive technology provision. The objective was to draw parallels across education/employment, social and health contexts and to deduct what is needed for providing effective AT services also in low- and middle-income countries.
One of the biggest challenges the assistive technology (AT) sector faces, is the successful delivery of appropriate solutions to persons with disabilities (PwD) and older adults with functional limitations. Some estimate that even in high-income countries, only 10% of needs are met! On top of that changing demographics and advancements in technology, plus the variety of needs across cultures and languages, make successful delivery of AT worldwide even more challenging.
The speakers outlined today’s state of play, starting with describing the gap between the funding in developed countries flowing into social robots, IoT applications and eHealth solutions to support the elderly, while in countries such as India many people do not have access to the even most basic support such as wheelchairs. But also, across European countries assistive technology delivery systems differ significantly. There are differences in who is eligible and for what. Sometimes these differences even appear in funding schemes in one and the same country as demonstrated by a comparison of the Disabled Student’s Allowances (DSA) and Access to Work (AtW) in the UK and their outcomes for users.
To bridge these gaps, solid delivery systems for assistive technology need to be developed, based on models applicable in the local context of low resource settings. Different examples were presented, such as the development of AAC symbols that are culturally acceptable in the Arabic world, and the Sustainable Community of Practice (SCOP) Model to create a wheelchair provision strategy for Romania and the Philippines. Besides, an innovation roadmap for delivering AT services remotely, was presented.
A red thread throughout the discussions, was the need for standards to ensure that AT solutions will be deployable and interoperable on a global scale. The creation of a Special Interest Group (SIG) within AAATE was suggested.
A relevant issue is the need for standardised procedures to evaluate the outcome of AT service delivery, which was outlined in the evidence-based procedure to evaluate the outcomes for the Center for Assistive Technology (CAT) in Bologna, Italy. Interesting to consider in this regard is the primary focus of different stakeholders. For example, governments are interested in determining what percentage of abandonment of AT in their funding schemes is acceptable. For AT professionals on the other hand, it is more important to understand the reasons for the abandonment.
A major topic of discussion was also AAATE’s 2012 Position Paper on Service Delivery Systems for Assistive Technology in Europe. The workshop presentations provided a lot of evidence that it seems an appropriate moment to proceed with an update, which was further confirmed through the feedback from the participants. Several rounds of discussions focussed on the question into the core elements of an assistive technology provision process, that cut across education, employment, social and health contexts. Participants and speakers came up with a list of 12 key elements. These will feed into an update of the 2012 position paper in view of creating a handbook for policy makers, AT professionals and AT users alike.
Technology has changed considerably over the past years and more and more accessibility features are built into mainstream products. There is a power shift in the air, with users with disabilities becoming more independent of AT professionals. Interesting questions are whether this is just due to the progression of accessibility, or whether this is also due to a changing self-perception among those with disabilities and their increasing confidence with technology. However, there is evidence that women and girls with disabilities still remain under-represented in tech education.
It is also clear that the deployment of technology in different cultural contexts is not an automatic process and will probably require a bottom-up approach as well as bringing the technology to where it is needed rather than bringing the person to the technology.
Fundamental questions that we need to face are, if the concept of AT still means the same thing as 10 years ago, how we can become more flexible in the delivery of AT services and how the role of AT professionals is changing.
Updated policies, legislation, guidelines and standards are needed to ensure a safe progression of current AT service delivery models, as well as better ways of making research applicable for communities and users. With regards to developing countries, it is vital to build local skills and solutions. For AT service delivery globally, it is necessary to assess the complexity at the system level, which shows how different aspects and choices are interrelated.
The following needs were acknowledged:
- the need for standards in service delivery and guidelines for successful AT delivery system, including sustainability indicators;
- the need to harvest data from delivery models and to assess outcomes;
- the need to better relate social activities, education & work issues with AT provision;
- the need to differentiate communication strategies in involving stakeholders;
- the need to assess the risks involved in the various models of AT delivery;
- the need to break down silos and bring all related sectors to the table;
- the need to consider ongoing technological transformations (incl. IoT, AIT, e-learning, do-it-yourself tech etc.) and interoperability with emerging technologies;
- the need to redefine what we mean by AT and related terms such as assistive solutions.
The full workshop report can be accessed here: AAATE 2018 workshop report