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Commitment from technology companies vital for assistive technology users

By Stuart Lawler, Business Development Manager, Sight and Sound Technology Ireland
Assistive technology (AT) changes lives. It gives people with disabilities access to the technology they need to perform everyday tasks, thrive in school, go to college and excel in employment. But it’s a huge area, encompassing everything from simple, low-tech solutions to really sophisticated, high-tech devices and finding the right solution can be difficult in such a wide field. Add to that that technology needs don’t remain static, rather changing as our lives and circumstances change, and it can become mind-boggling.
Only one in 10 people who require AT have access to it. [1] This is partly driven by a lack of consistency in access and support, which has led to gaps in understanding and take up. So how do we streamline the experience for users? FreedomTech is a not-for-profit organisation with that focus as its mission. FreedomTech created CHAT (Community Hub for Accessible Technology) – a 200-strong user-focused space where people can learn from each other and identify gaps and challenges in assistive technology. CHAT allows not only end users to learn about AT, but also developers, academics, therapists, service providers and healthcare professionals.
We in industry have a role to play in improving the landscape for AT users, and not just through our product development, although that is critical. The peer support and learning network offered by CHAT is vital but it’s not sustainable without support and the tech industry is a natural partner. Collaborating at this level means that we can close some of the gaps in understanding on what AT is and how impactful it can be. It also means that we can listen to users and learn from their experiences, gaining a better understanding of their needs and reflecting that in our product offering. We have a responsibility to do more than sell technology; we must provide the ongoing support necessary to ensure that the technology we know has the power to transform lives, actually does so.
Mainstream technology companies have made huge strides in their commitment to AT users in the last 10 years, enabling people to use a mix of both out-of-the-box accessible mainstream products and specific AT products. In AT we have seen developments in wearable technology for people with sight loss that, while relatively new, shows the potential for innovative solutions.
As an AT user myself, this is an exciting time. It’s up to our industry to make it so for all AT users – to remove barriers, improve access and provide life-long support that ensures the user’s continued success throughout their lives.
Stuart Lawler is Business Development Manager with Sight and Sound Technology Ireland. Sight and Sound is an assistive technology company with 40 years of experience in the UK and opened their first Irish office one year ago.

[1] WHO figures state that less than 1 in 10 people who need AT can access AT