“We are at an amazing moment in the history of the #AT sector” – 2 weeks to #AAATE2019

Barely 2 weeks to go to our gathering of over 300 assistive technology experts for #AAATE2019 in Bologna. Helping us to prepare for the conference is Dr. Natasha Layton, president of the Australian Rehabilitation & Assistive Technology Association (ARATA) and member of #AAATE2019’s scientific committee. She shares insights and expectations for the AT sector and our gathering in Bologna.

  • Can you give us a quick overview of your background and experience in the assistive technology sector?

Natasha: I’m an occupational therapist who has always been drawn to the power of enabling technologies and environments. Mary Law, an inspirational Canadian occupational therapist, asked: do we need to change the individual, if the environment is enabling? I think that’s an excellent, and socially just, starting point for our practice.

  • We see today a strong push towards making products and services more accessible for persons with functional limitations. Is this support or competition to the AT sector?

Natasha: The real experts in this area of course are assistive technology (AT) users. When we ask AT users this question, the answer is that the ‘mainstreaming’ accessibility is hugely beneficial. Designing everyday technologies and services to encompass diverse capabilities will reduce stigma, recognise diversity, and raise the bar for everyone. AT users, and their practitioners, have a lot to teach mainstream designers. My colleague Ricky Buchanan and I have just written about this in an open letter from an AT user to AT suppliers, available at [FREE DOWNLOAD Buchanan R, Layton N. Innovation in Assistive Technology: Voice of the User. Societies. 2019;9(2):48. https://www.mdpi.com/2075-4698/9/2/48].

  • What are the most important challenges we need to tackle in the #AT sector in the next 6-12 months?

Natasha: We are at an amazing moment in the history of the #AT sector. Globally, there is strong recognition that AT is a powerful enabler for people ageing into disability, and ageing with disability. I think a big challenge is to overcome the ‘divide’ between high income countries, and low/middle income countries. I am always mindful in working with assistive products such as digital and robotic technologies, that availability of these technologies is not a reality. People in the ‘majority world’ don’t have access, even if their level of need is great. And many in high income countries find their funding context may limit the availability of AT.

Excitingly, the World Health Assembly has called for a Global Report into Assistive Technology. This gives us all the opportunity as individuals to champion a ‘rights-based’ access to AT. Joining your region’s professional association is another way to meet this challenge. Internationally, AT Professional Organisations such as ARATA, RESNA, RESKO, RESJA, AAATE and TREATS are working to facilitate regional communities of practice, building local capacity to realise the full potential of people through AT. To cement this collaboration, there will be the General Assembly of the International Alliance of Assistive Technology Organisations on 27 August, adjacent to #AAATE2019 (http://aaate2019.eu/pre-conference-events).

  • What would be a valuable outcome for #AAATE2019 – for your personally and for the AT sector overall?

Natasha: Conferences such as #AAATE2019 are valuable because every individual AT user, practitioner, supplier, researcher and stakeholder, can feel part of a larger community of practice. For any newcomers to the #AT scene, I suggest joining your local networks. These might be AT-based, profession-based, and can include connecting with your local disabled persons organisations as a supporter or friend. Networking in this way can sustain us, inform us, and enable us to put research and policy into practice for the benefit of all.

If you want to join Natasha and the international AT expert community, sign up here: http://aaate2019.eu/registration/how-to-register/, and join us in Bologna 🙂