Assistive technology offers a helping hand
An EU co-funded research network is working on pioneering assistive technologies which can support independent living and enable choice among those diagnosed with intellectual disabilities and/or autism, in a bid to improve their quality of life.
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In 2011, it was estimated that people with intellectual disability (ID) and/or autism represented between 2-3 % of Europe’s population, or 13 million Europeans. As the level of diagnosis of autism is rising sharply, this figure is expected to grow significantly. The United Nations published its Convention on Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in 2011 which highlighted assistive technology (AT) as a powerful tool to increase users’ independence and participation in society.
The EU-funded ASSISTID project is fostering both research into, and development of novel AT that responds to the needs of those with ID or autism a way of helping governments and societies respond to their needs and meet the UN’s call for the development and increased availability of AT.
In parallel, the programme’s network aims to foster better understanding of the current barriers to AT uptake and how to overcome them, based on the evidence gathered to help inform disability policy and practice.
ASSISTID programme manager, Bridget Doyle, says that as long as AT is matched correctly with a person’s need there is huge potential for their increased independence, choice and participation.
“Some technologies focus on helping to prepare people for entry into education or the workforce, while for others with a more profound ID, technology could mean transforming their ability to communicate, such as through the use of eye-gaze technology,” she adds.
Inspiring innovative tech
The 23 ASSISTID research fellows are investigating how AT can support people in the fields of communication, education, life skills, policy and employment. Their ultimate aim is to reduce the life-time cost of supporting a person with ID or autism, which currently can reach up to EUR 3 million.
This should ensure the societal relevance of the research and provide information on how the particular needs of individuals influence the successful uptake of AT. It should also enable postdoc researchers to take on leading roles in the provision of services that provide education, social inclusion and employment for people with autism or ID in future.
Spreading the word
Ultimately, the ASSISTID network aims to drive further research, product and application development in the currently underserved European AT market, which is valued at over EUR 30 billion. This demand is expected to increase in line with the ageing of the population, since the majority of AT is allocated to older people.
According to Doyle, this research area “is of massive socio-economic importance but is inadequately represented in national and European policies”, despite the UNCRDP calls for the promotion of AT for people with disabilities. With all the ASSISTID fellows focusing on publishing in peer-reviewed journals, too, there are expectations that the project will make a significant contribution to improving the quality of life for those living with ID and/or autism.
ASSISTID is co-funded by the European Commission and the charity RESPECT. It is coordinated by RESPECT’s research institute DOCTRID, a network of universities, service providers and industry partners across Ireland, the US and the UK undertaking ground-breaking research in intellectual disabilities and autism.