Getting assistive technology right

Assistive technology (or personalised technology) is a key part of support planning, and plays a vital role offering people ‘Just Enough Support’ to achieve a full life.

At its best, assistive technology can make a difference to people’s independence, increase privacy and dignity, and help the people we support to gain more control over their lives. It covers a huge range of technologies from simple automatic medicine dispensers and big button remote controls to internet connectivity, artificial intelligence, wearable health trackers and smart homes.

Assistive tech may lead to less need for regular staff checks, more autonomy at home, and greater mobility for people with physical disabilities. Read our family factsheet or easy read guide to assistive technology or scroll down for detailed information about what assistive technology is (and isn’t.)

Assistive technology also helps to deliver value for money for commissioners, supporting the sustainability of services as well as improving individual outcomes.

Improving Communication

Much assistive technology is about improving communication – from objects of reference to eyegaze technology. Read our detailed guide to great communication or view this video to explore some communications technologies:

What are the benefits of other assistive technologies?

Assistive technology helps to safeguard the people we support, increasing people’s independence, privacy and dignity by enabling care to be delivered only when needed. It also helps people to make their own choices and decisions about their lives.

Sometimes assistive tech saves money. If so, a person’s personal budget can be reallocated to help them get more from life.

Colleagues report they can spend more time engaged in meaningful activities when the people we support are able to take more control over their own care. Assistive technology can also help colleagues feel safer when supporting individuals with behaviours of distress.

Assistive tech can reassure families that their loved ones are being supported 24 hours a day, and that their safety and independence is being maintained.

Our Guiding Principles

Minimising digital isolation: Many of the people we support do not have much access to technology and the internet. We want every person we support to be seen and treated as an equal citizen, with the same opportunities and right to safety as everyone else. This includes reliable access to the internet and devices.

We do not want technology to replace great support: Assistive technology, alongside great active support, may enable people to live better lives.

We want people to have ‘Just Enough Support’ (there’s a family factsheet about Just Enough Support, too) and to be following our ‘Activate’ support model.

We will focus on the support plan: The right assistive technology for any person will be identified by looking at their particular needs and whether any of the Assistive Technology products could help them live a better life. This is captured within the ‘My Technology’ section of a support plan.

We will use products to help keep people safe – for example having epilepsy or falls sensors in place. Using assistive technology helps safeguard the people we support, increasing people’s independence, privacy and dignity by enabling care to be delivered only when needed. It also helps people to make more choices and decisions about their lives.

Sometimes assistive tech saves money. This may allow funds to go further, and individuals to get more out of life.

We aim to:

Provide support for all the technology in place – for example, to ensure a person we support can stay safe online.

Provide support in using products to increase communication skills and build friendships.

Support people to use products that improve communication, health or lifelong learning, or which help someone be part of their community.

Get specialist advice to help find new ways to improve the quality of a person’s care and support.

Support people to have the right internet connection and speed for them.

Help people explore how to get online, thinking about both devices and broadband. This all starts with the ‘My Technology’ part of ‘My Support Plan’ and may vary depending on a person’s support arrangements.

FAQs

Does assistive technology cause loneliness?

In general, no. Most assistive technology aims to support people to make everyday tasks and self-care easier and safer – from single-cup kettles (which reduce the risk of scalding) to colour change bath plugs (with the same goal.)

But just as social media is blamed for causing loneliness across society, so some assistive tech can reduce interactions with people. Tech-enabled toilets reduce the need for personal care. Remote control curtains reduce the need for night and morning visits. So providers must be cautious and work with the people we support and their families to get this right. We must not introduce technology that isolates people.

How much money can assistive tech save?

There’s obviously no single answer to this question but assistive technology can often save money whilst improving wellbeing:

We installed epilepsy sensors, ceasing the need for intrusive and frequent physical checks through the night. The overall investment was just over £30K, which allowed us to withdraw waking night support. The reduced disturbance also greatly improved people’s quality of sleep which had a positive impact on their wellbeing.

Can telecare protect people’s independence?

Undoubtedly, yes. But telecare is not the only answer. What follows is a good example of how we learned to combine telecare with physical changes to Mildred’s home to achieve a good outcome:

“Mildred” has dementia and a learning disability. She lives in an upstairs bedroom and after a couple of falls over a step just outside her bedroom, she moved to the ground floor of the house next door.

Unfortunately Mildred would become confused some evenings and leave her bedroom to go back to her old house. We installed a door sensor to let her staff team know if she had left the building as there was a risk of her wandering outside in her nightclothes. We learned that Mildred really wanted to go back to her old room.

We worked with the housing provider to replace the step from in front of her room with a ramp and relocated the sensor to her bedroom door. This has allowed Mildred to return to her bedroom and has reduced the risk of falls. She also now wears a falls detector on her wrist.

We are confident that with the right support and the benefit of the right assistive technology, Mildred should be able to remain living independently in her home.

Can assistive technology be low tech?

Absolutely, yes. Here’s a great example of a time we combined high and low tech solutions to change a person’s life:

“Jason” is registered blind and used to live with 5 other people. This caused him anxiety which he expressed through self-harming behaviour. We knew Jason would benefit from living alone but he wasn’t eligible for sufficient funding for one to one support. Assistive Technology has helped Jason live independently.

Because Jason responds really well to objects of reference, we thought we could help him recognise his environment by designing an environment with different sensory stimuli. Textured handrails and different floor coverings were fitted to help Jason identify which room he was in. Different smells were used to orient him around the flat. Room and bed occupancy sensors were installed to alert staff if there were any unusual patterns in his movement around his home.

Jason’s life has changed beyond recognition. He now has support when he needs and wants it and lives in a flat that has been designed to meet his specific needs. He is able to move freely around his flat and this has enabled him to increase the time he has without support. Jason’s incidents of self-harm are rare, with less intervention from health professionals, and he can now fund dedicated 1:1 support through the day that enables him to pursue his interests. He does not share his support or environment with anyone else and he clearly relishes this independence.

What is telecare?

Telecare is a type of assistive technology. Telecare helps the people we support to manage risk and remain independent by means of wireless sensors placed around the home which detect problems such as smoke, gas, floods or a person falling or having an epileptic seizure. Sensors automatically raise a local, audible alarm, as well as alerting a support worker, ensuring the right help can be delivered at the right time 24 hours a day. Telecare gives the people we support control, enabling them to ask for help if they need it but minimising unnecessary disruption, such as night time checks and intrusive home carer visits.

We are exploring alternative ways in which a deaf person we support can take control of her own safety. For example, a wireless system linked to the smoke detectors will cause her bedroom light to turn on and her pillow to vibrate should the smoke alarm be triggered. This means she will be able to safely evacuate herself in an emergency and can live in her own home without compromising her safety.

What is self care?

‘Self-care’ is another form of assistive technology, consisting of products that reduce someone’s need for paid support such as automatic medication dispensers.

What support makes the most of assistive technology?

Active Support is best practice that enables people to be actively involved in meaningful activities regardless of ability, developing their engagement and skills, and ultimately reducing the need for paid support.

What is Brain in Hand?

Some people we support use an assistive technology called ‘Brain in Hand’. This aims to reduce the symptoms of anxiety that can sometimes be felt by people with autism in unfamiliar situations.

Individuals and their carers put diary activities into their phone and plan for any challenges that they may face. This ranges from small things like running out of milk, through to planning strategies for panic attacks or losing house keys. The technology then allows the individual to access their schedule and step by step solutions to any problem is on their phone; reminding them what they need to do in a situation whenever and wherever they need it.

Brain in Hand also includes mood traffic lights where the individual can monitor their anxiety throughout the day and help staff pre-empt when support may be required.

Finally: what about the pandemic?

Many people have asked whether the pandemic made a major difference to the connectedness of the people we support. The answer to that, without question, is yes. To find out just how big the change has been, watch this short animation: