CREATEive projects are the green shoots of a national Digital Assistive Technology ecosystem Posted on 27th June 2022 Users of digital assistive technology (DAT) today welcomed the showcasing of 11 key projects which represent the green shoots of a much-needed assistive technology ecosystem in Ireland. Digital assistive technology has the power to transform the lives of people with disabilities and older people and today users saw the difference that joined-up thinking can make to their experience. DAT is essential for many people with disabilities, enabling them to communicate, participate in education and employment and supporting them to live independently. However, ensuring success for users is about more than just providing the technology – it requires streamlining everything from funding, innovation and procurement to information provision, service provision and training. Current service provision in Ireland is fragmented and inconsistent but centralising these elements will create an ecosystem of supports which will ensure that services are as up to date and responsive as possible. The 11 projects were funded by the HSE’s €2 million CREATE initiative, announced by Minister for Disabilities Anne Rabbitte earlier this year, and were showcased to a community called CHAT (Community Hub for Accessible Technology) today, by the advocacy partnership FreedomTech, a collaboration between the Disability Federation of Ireland and Enable Ireland. CHAT is a 200-strong user-focused space where people can learn from each other and identify gaps and challenges in DAT. Opening the CHAT Gathering today, Minister for Disabilities, Anne Rabbitte said: “I was delighted to secure €2 million for the Cooperative Real Engagement for Assistive Technology Enhancement, or CREATE initiative, in Budget 2022, that seeks to ensure that service users and providers work together to identify what will make a real difference to individual users of digital and assistive technology and am really excited today to hear from the 11 successful grant recipients whose innovative projects will I know, greatly assist people with disabilities.” Joan O’Donnell, FreedomTech Project Manager: “For many, access to Digital Assistive Technology is the difference between being able to live independently, go to school or work and socialise. This funding and these projects mark the beginning of a transformation of DAT supports and services, where disabled people will have access to technology on par with everyone else. FreedomTech has advocated for an ecosystem for Digital Assistive Technology for many years and this funding and these projects mark the beginning of green shoots for a coherent system that will ensure that nobody is left behind in our society.” One of the projects showcased today, which will form part of that ecosystem of supports, is the Assistive Technology (AT) Passport. Currently under prototype development, the project is an initiative of Enable Ireland, in partnership with the Disability Federation of Ireland, St. John of God Community Services, Multiple Sclerosis Ireland and Headway Ireland. This project will develop a prototype AT Passport, comprising a web portal and app, which will help AT users navigate the DAT system and access information and opportunities regarding the technologies they need and use. The AT Passport will be owned by the person, supporting them through key transitions in their life and allowing them to have freedom of movement throughout their lives without fear of losing funding, IT supports, training or the DAT they use. David Carter, who is supported by Saint John of God Community Services, had this to say about the AT Passport project: “DAT is so important to me and the AT passport will be great because it will help me to access my files and information easier and that makes me feel excellent in myself – when I can do it myself. I feel prouder doing things with technology for myself.” Oran O’Neill, sound engineer and audio description producer with RTÉ echoed the need for people to be in charge of their own DAT needs: “As a blind person, I know that I couldn’t do my job without access to Digital Assistive Technology. Each of the CREATE projects are focused on the freedom, choice and support of people with disabilities. They will also create a more coherent system that will benefit not only users of DAT, but also employers and educational institutions, ensuring that people with disabilities have access to the technology and funding required for us to fully participate and succeed.” The recently-published Global Report on Assistive Technology found that, while access to DAT is a human right and the need for it is on the rise, the majority of those need it do not have sufficient access. 1 Without a coherent DAT ecosystem, Ireland cannot realise the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and so this funding stream and these projects will also help to address gaps in the implementation of many government policies that aim to support citizens to participate fully in Irish society. Developing and resourcing Ireland’s DAT infrastructure could also provide a significant return on investment for both the State and the user. Glenn Tookey, CEO of Sight and Sound Technology, the leading provider of Assistive Technology in Ireland, who have partnered with FreedomTech for the last three years, welcomed the move towards a comprehensive system of supports for DAT users. “We’ve been delighted to partner with FreedomTech and the CHAT community over the last few years to work towards improving the AT landscape. FreedomTech have consistently advocated for a streamlined and comprehensive service for AT users and it’s great to see that coming to fruition. The result will be greater autonomy, choice and access to Digital Assistive Technology that can have such a positive impact on the lives of people with disabilities and older people.” ENDS Contact For further information contact Fionnuala Murphy, Sight and Sound Technology Ireland on 087 4116925 or email [email protected] Notes: Minister for Disabilities, Anne Rabbitte, announced €2m for 11 projects under the HSE’s CREATE initiative in January 2022, with the aim of improving access to digital assistive technologies for people with disabilities. FreedomTech believes that a well-funded and supported Assistive Technology ecosystem makes economic sense in the long term, repaying initial investment over only a few years. CHAT was established in 2015 with a dozen participants and has grown to over 200 participants, including people with disabilities (expert and non-expert AT users), AT practitioners, researchers, educators, service providers, developers, suppliers, disability organisations and industry. CHAT aims to raise the profile of assistive technology in Ireland and helps to raise awareness about the barriers that currently exist and facilitates the sharing of new assistive technology solutions or projects to the community. Sight and Sound Technology is a supporter of FreedomTech and has been a leading provider of assistive technology in the UK and Ireland for 40 years. The list of projects in receipt of funding are: Enable Ireland, in partnership with the Disability Federation of Ireland, St. John of God Community Services, Multiple Sclerosis Ireland and Headway, will develop a prototype Assistive Technology passport; comprising a web portal and app, that will help users navigate the DAT system and access information and opportunities regarding the technologies they use. Acquired Brain Injury Ireland will use person-centred DAT to support brain injury survivors, whist also establishing a new programme to systematically up-skill its staff in the range and functionality of DAT products. The Brothers of Charity Services (West Region, Galway) are establishing a Pilot DAT team to develop a new multidisciplinary service focusing on communication and access needs, linking with local advocacy groups for people with disabilities. The Central Remedial Clinic will establish Ireland’s first Sit-to-Stand Wheelchair Service; allowing wheelchair users to stand without the need of assistance. For people with spinal cord injury and Duchenne muscular dystrophy this may have a range of physical and psychological benefits. The 9 Children’s Disability Network Teams in Community Health West will establish a community “DAT bank” with access based on need and incorporating DAT into Family Service Planning and integrating with the Department of Education’s Digital Strategy for Schools. Adult Disability Services in Longford & Westmeath will work with Longford Country Council to identify DAT to support people with disabilities living independently in the community and facilitating those on a housing waiting list to take up a house when it becomes available. The Rehab Group will develop a DAT eco-system with a first-stop-shop for information, advice and guidance on how DAT can enhance person-centred planning, independence and participation is all aspects of life. Their new DAT Training module will be co-produced with people with disability. Saint Michael’s House will use DAT to enhance the experience of using Respite services, incorporating the Sláintecare funded Health Passport for People with Intellectual Disabilities, to promote a joined-up approach across disability, health and educational services; making services providers aware of the abilities, needs and reasonable accommodation requirements of people with an intellectual disability. Stewarts Care will use DAT to promote the implementation of the Meaningful Day approach to service provision, by providing broader range of activities, including greater social interaction between service users and between them and the communities in which they live or will be transitioning to live in. Sunbeam House Services will develop a DAT Loan Library which, among other things, will support the advocacy group, Viewpoint, to develop a mentorship programme of expert DAT users. The National Council for the Blind (NCBI) will provide timely access to DAT nationwide, addressing delays and shortfalls in provision of DAT, offering consistency of support, training and assessments, regardless of where you live.