“Helping disabled and older people live independently at home has long been my priority of priorities. I believe there to be no worthier cause, nor one which makes such a tangible difference to so many lives”,
Alf Morris, Rt Hon The Lord Morris of Manchester
AskSARA (opens in new tab or window)
is an online tool from the Disability Living Foundation (opens in new tab or window)
(part of Shaw Trust) designed to make daily living easier and more accessible by offering tailored advice to each person based on their individual needs.
Photo: Alf Morris, Rt Hon The Lord Morris of Manchester
“Every year, millions of British people, either disabled or older, suffer frustration, despair and pain because of relatively simple problems, which can be solved.
The help and equipment is around them; but they can’t get to it.” Source: Andrew Marr and Jackie Ashley, Stroke of fate: the politics of recovery, The Alf Morris Lecture 2016
Assistive technology and equipment helps reduce the need for social care services by removing or delaying the need for care, access to good equipment reduces incidents of injuries thus alleviating pressure on health care services but vitally, having the right equipment and access to the right technology brings much more important and positive outcomes to individuals such as improved quality of life and good mental health, the “life to the years” as Alf Morris put it.
But why can’t people get equipment that is available?
Research carried out by the University of Coventry found that the 2 main barriers to people buying equipment for independent living were:
- A lack of awareness that a product that might help/actually exists
- Not knowing how to choose what to buy
So, although there is equipment out there, it seems that what is required is a more effective joined up approach across health and social care professionals, independent living centres and manufacturers and suppliers to ensure that there is much more awareness of the equipment and assistive technology available and better access to quality advice and support.
Access to assistive technology and equipment is a basic human right.
We interviewed Clare Gray, Shaw Trust’s Disability Advocacy Advisor and power wheelchair user and Simon Minty, Director of Sminty Ltd, a disability training and consultancy company and one of Britain’s most influential disabled people Power100 2017
Simon also has personal experience of disability, being of short stature and limited mobility.
In the photo (from left to right): Ed Mylles, Director at DLF, Simon Minty, Clare Gray
We asked Clare and Simon a number of questions about their real life experiences of accessing the right equipment and their thoughts on how we can improve awareness and make the world a more accessible place for everyone.
What does assistive technology mean to you?
Clare: For me it means a piece of equipment (physical item) or software that enables me to be more independent than I would be if I didn’t have it.
Simon: I see it as equipment that will make my life easier. Where the world isn’t “designed” for someone like me, the assistive technology helps.
What assistive technology or equipment do you use?
Clare: I use a lot of assistive tech in my life:
- My powered wheelchair
- A miniature keyboard with a built-in tracker ball for my laptop
- A light pen for my tablet device
- A three-way profiling electric bed
- Light weight thermal cups/mugs
- Voice activation for my mobile phone
- An automatic tie-down / winch system for my adapted vehicle
- A seat for my bath
- Bluetooth devices for my mobile phones and tablet
Simon: I also use a lot of different “kit”.
- A mobility scooter
- Hearing aid
- Step stool in the kitchen
- Stick for putting socks on
I have just started using Amazon Echo- a microphone and speaker where I just ask it for things like diary appointments, reminders, weather and music.
What is the one piece of equipment you would not be without?
Clare: My wheelchair is my most important assistive device. I do not have the strength to use a manual wheelchair and so I would be totally reliant on other people for all my mobility if I did not have a powered wheelchair.
My miniature keyboard with built-in tracker ball has transformed the way I work (I know you only asked for one thing!) I didn’t know they existed until about 10 years ago. Moving my hand from the keyboard to the mouse is difficult for me to do and having my keyboard with the mouse built in to it means all keys and the mouse are within my reach. It also means I can connect it to most PC’s and laptops without having to use specialist software.
Simon: Although nothing to do with disability, I could not live without my smartphone! Disability wise, it would be my mobility scooter.
What are the barriers to getting the right equipment?
Clare: Knowing what you need and where to find it. Sometimes it’s only been by seeing someone else using something that I have realised that it would be useful to me.
Cost is also another barrier because unfortunately most things considered to be for disabled people tend to be more expensive.
(“Life costs £550 more on average a month if you are disabled. Read more (opens in a new tab or window)
Some items once seen as “specialist”, ie. Lap-trays, lightweight cups and bluetooth devices, are now very much part of everyday life and as such price has been driven down and they are now more readily available.
There are also sometimes psychological barriers to overcome. Using a piece of equipment can be seen by some people as becoming ‘dependent’ rather than ‘independent’. I have been disabled all my life and for me anything that enables me to maintain or improve my independence I see as a way to enable me and not disable me.
Simon: At the risk of generalising, it’s a resistance to using something that confirms you have a limitation and as such, others may see you in this same way. But it’s a false belief that you can manage without as it’s more likely that you will gradually do less without the right equipment.
But for some it might just be the knowledge that the piece of equipment exists and how to get it. For others it might be the prohibitive cost of the equipment.
Do you think there is anything we can all do to remove some of these barriers?
Clare: Sharing information and experience is so important to let people know what is out there to make everyday life easier. People are naturally interested in other people’s experiences, so when you see, hear or find information or a piece of equipment that could benefit other people, share it. (Email me your experiences at Clare.Gray@shaw-trust.org.uk and I’ll share them.)
Simon: Giving people encouragement to use the equipment. Better and more attractive design so it’s not just about function and reduced costs. I’ve always felt the mark up for disabled peoples’ equipment is higher than it should be.
What assistive technology have you used that has now become part of everyday life?
Clare: Voice activation is now used everywhere ie. search engines, hands free devices in cars, by banks for voice recognition to identify account holders.
Simon: Remote controls, electric windows in cars, automatic doors. These are all examples of “ assistive technology” used in everyday “non-disabled” life.
Do you know of any assistive technology in the pipeline that will revolutionise people’s independence?
Clare: I can think of a few:
- Mobile phone apps that activate pedestrian crossings on approach,
- Driver-less cars will enable people like me to have greater independence.
- I have also seen an App being developed that will let your wheelchair find you in the house and position itself next to you for easy transfer from bed or armchair. That would be amazing!
Simon: It’s all about artificial intelligence. Whether that be voice operated homes or driverless cars. This will help everyone and so long as it’s made accessible, should help many disabled people.
Do you think the term assistive technology is sometimes misunderstood?
Clare: Yes, because many people consider assistive technology to be about IT or computers. Although this is true for some pieces of equipment or software the term also means objects or items that can increase and maintain a person’s independence.
Simon: Yes, the word “technology” is the confusing bit. I’m more likely to say “kit” when speaking with disabled friends, others might use “aids”.
Is there any “kit” that you’d like to see invented?
Clare: A wheelchair that can hover over pavements. This would eliminate the need to worry about uneven ground, kerbs and debris!!
Simon: I’d like a hover skateboard with a small seat. Please.
Do you know where to find the technology you or someone you know needs?
If not AskSARA (opens in a new tab or window), AskSARA was designed to make daily living easier by offering tailored advice to each person based on their individual needs. AskSARA is an online tool from Disability Living Foundation (opens in new tab or window) (DLF) which is part of Shaw Trust.
Alf Morris was DLF’s longest-serving Vice- President and was closely involved with the charity since its inception in 1969. (DLF has been part of Shaw Trust since Nov 2014)
DLF has the most comprehensive list of assistive technology in Europe with 11,000 independent living products to help people live independently, at home, with dignity. Their impartial advice and information on assistive technology was accessed by over 2.2million people in the last 12 months and they are on a mission to reach 5 million people by 2020.
For more information about the DLF visit http://www.dlf.org.uk/ (open in a new tab or window).
About the Alf Morris Fund for Independent Living
The Rt Hon The Lord Morris of Manchester was one of our greatest social reformers who dedicated his life and parliamentary career to campaigning on behalf of older and disabled people. The Chronically Sick & Disabled Persons Act (1970) transformed the lives of millions of disabled people in the UK and worldwide. It was the first legislation to recognise disabled people’s rights in areas as diverse as access, education, employment and mobility.
Alf Morris truly believed that practical help could be transformative, enriching not just individual lives but families and whole communities.
The Alf Morris Fund (open in a new tab or window) for Independent Living honour’s Alf’s legacy by helping people to access the resources now available to keep them independent. The Fund recognises that fairness and informed choice are central to human dignity and its goal to “adding life to years” rather than just years to life.
For more information on the Fund please visit http://www.dlf.org.uk/support-us/alf-morris-fund (open in a new tab or window).