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The Possibilities of Assistive Technology


By David Ashton-Jones

I am pleased to start this post by saying that I think we are heading in the right direction in terms of how Disability Action Yorkshire can use assistive technology to support disabled people.

I spoke previously about specific pieces of assistive technology that currently exist and also about meetings set up to help grow our relationships with innovators in my last post, which will allow us to dig deeper in the solutions we can provide for disabled people, and I would like to update you on what we discovered.

We have been fortunate to visit some extraordinary places and had the opportunity to meet with a number of individuals who have helped us understand more about what is possible with assistive technology for disabled people.

I have had a number of highlights in the past couple of months,  but two stick in my mind. The first was a meeting with Simon at CATCH, which stands for The Centre of Assistive Technology and Connected Healthcare. CATCH studies, develops, evaluates, and implements new technologies to enable people to live and age well.

Disability Action Yorkshire | CATCH

I had all sorts of ideas swirling in my head on the way to this meeting, some of which were perhaps a bit farfetched but others I am pleased to say were a real possibility. I have another meeting with them in May, which, for now, I will keep close to my chest, but in the meantime, I would love to share exciting technological advancements that CATCH has been working on.

Speech disorders can impact the way that someone communicates to others, and in some instances, significant challenges in life can be presented without a carer nearby. CATCH even suggests that some conventional voice output communication aids (machines that speak for you) are slow and tiring to use.

When Simon presented a video about a device called VIVOCA, I was taken aback and in awe that something like this was being developed. VIVOCA recognises and interprets disordered speech and, then, communicates what its users want to say in a clear, synthesised voice that gives back the independence of the person and the carer. The device is going through some final evaluation, with the hope of partnering with a commercial organisation to take it to market.

Whilst I am on the point of this kind of technology, I recently saw, in a BBC News article about Scarborough’s Jason Liversidge, who was diagnosed with motor neuron disease in 2013, he is developing a voice synthesizer with a Yorkshire accent. Most of us are familiar with Steven Hawkins, and although the technology follows the same premise, creating the kind of synthesis described in the BBC article will allow Jason to retain his identity when he is no longer able to talk.

Now back to my meeting with CATCH. I have had an image since, starting at Disability Action Yorkshire, about how a Robot might be able to help disabled people, particularly in an independent living setting. My thought was specifically related to people falling in their home and not receiving help quickly enough. I imagined a robot, conveniently appearing from a wardrobe or some disclosed area around the home, having the ability to place an individual back in his/her respective position. I threw this idea at CATCH, and I was interested to hear that some research had already taken place on something similar, but its actual inception was quite far on the horizon.  There were some things that I had not considered in my original idea, such as the robot scooping someone up, lifting too high, and actually dropping an individual from a height that would subsequently cause more harm than good.

I had an interesting experience with CATCH and I hope to provide further details in future posts about how this relationship develops.

One of our other meetings was with Tunstall, an organisation that develops technology that transforms the experience of individuals and professionals to deliver connected health care.

Disability Action Yorkshire | Tunstall Logo

Our meetings over the past couple of months with other organisations in assistive technology seem to be closely linked, and it is interesting to hear that CATCH and Tunstall have collaborated on projects in the past. So, I feel that as an organisation, we are heading in the right direction in developing key relationships within the assistive technology arena.

I could probably write all day about Tunstall as I could about CATCH, but to keep things concise, I am going to let you know about one fantastic piece of technology we have witnessed that will provide a real element of safety for a disabled person living independently.

Penny and Mark from Tunstall took us to have a look at a concept flat that showcases the possibilities of assistive technology in a home environment. You can see more about the concept house by clicking here, but I just want to specifically talk about security and how some small adaptations can bring peace of mind to a disabled person, family, and friends and organisations providing care.

Tunstall are collaborating with a partner to provide a video doorbell system, which allows a resident to see who is at the front door and to communicate with them via a smart device. Tunstall developed a keyless door-entry system to work in harmony with this device, allowing entry without having to fiddle around for a key. In addition, the system will allow carers to enter at designated times or gain entry to respond to an emergency.

Disability Action Yorkshire | Tunstall Doorbell

The technology also records small video snippets of callers and keeps a history, which is useful in identifying missed, even bogus, callers!

With these different pieces of technology combined into a doorbell system, you can be confident in knowing that independent living for the disabled is secure when done the right way.

We are committed to finding solutions for disabled people, and I am sure you can see how these two pieces of technology from CATCH and Tunstall go a long way in assisting us in helping disabled people achieve their aspirations.

We are vastly approaching our visit to Naidex on 28th March, where we will report on our experience, but in the meantime, don’t forget that we are interested to hear about how assistive technology might help you, or you can provide us with any information you may have that will assist us in developing our knowledge even further.