Making the most of technology

Following on from Making the Future Together which was held on 30th April, Alison Matthews has contributed the below guest blog post summarising the discussion she chaired at the event on assistive technology. Alison is a speech and language therapist.

My interest in assistive technology has increased recently as I've become more aware of the use of apps for communication. I am on a steep learning curve as are many of my friends and colleagues. My teenage daughter has taught me most of the stuff I know about technology and every time I learn something new which I am convinced is cutting edge, it's met by a raised eyebrow and a 'yeah I know Mum'.

The increase in the use of technology is noticeable in education, health and social care as well as in the communication aid field. The developments in education are highlighted by Prensky (2001) who describes the generation of young people born between 1980 and 1994, as 'digital natives'. Prensky (2001) argues this generation have grown up immersed in technology and have been surrounded by video games, mobile phone and more latterly iPads. Prensky (2001) coined the term digital immigrants to describe those people born before this generation and outlined the differences in interest and ability in technology.

That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!  My status as a 'digital immigrant' was made abundantly clear to me recently when looking after my friend's two year old, who could navigate her way around my smart phone but who was not yet stringing words together.

I have however, had the good fortune to have a piece of work turned into an app quite recently, so in the workshop I could at least describe some of the issues I had encountered during the process. Workshop participants opted into the discussion and consisted of disabled people, support staff, family members and some service managers. The aim of the workshop was to capture the thoughts of the group, key ideas and to formulate an action plan to begin to address some of the issues.

In terms of the positive aspects of technology, the general consensus in the group was that technology can be extremely beneficial, increasing independence and potentially reducing support costs. A number of useful ideas and websites were shared and some low tech simple solutions to everyday problems. ( See below)

The group identified a number of potential barriers to the use of assistive technology: systems in hospitals, health and social care settings are not yet geared up to support the use of apps. For instance the lack of WiFi, strict access to iTunes and restrictive processes made it virtually impossible for staff and people with disabilities to make the most of apps. This has led to some practitioners taking devices home and using WiFi at home as well as their own iTunes account. Some practitioners have chosen to pay for apps themselves as the process of acquiring them is so fraught with difficulties. The issue of staff having up-to-date knowledge of technology and then being able to signpost individuals to appropriate aids was raised as an issue. Training is presumably part of the equation and much needed in order to stay up to date with developments.  Cost and the rigidity of 'specialist product lists' was a concern along with the need to avoid 'always thinking special'. Group members were concerned that cost seemed to escalate when a product was deemed to be suitable for 'special needs'. They also became far less appealing and there was less of a focus on design or aesthetics.

The key point raised in the discussion was the lack of co-ordination regarding information about technology for people with disabilities. There appears to be a significant number of websites available, members of the group had individual knowledge and expertise in all kinds of gadgets which could easily benefit others; yet no-one knew of one website which could signpost people . This is where the group felt In Control could take control! The action plan suggested by the group was that In Control could take the lead in developing a website or pages which provide links, a discussion forum and advice to signpost people to technology which may be beneficial. In keeping with the main theme of the conference, it is hoped that this could be the start of a revolution and that health and social care services will begin to review their policies and procedures making access to technology easier for all.



Prensky M (2001) Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, On the Horizon, vol 9, number 5, pp 1-6.

Information on apps for communication

The list below provides some useful links to apps for communication:

Glenda's Assistive Technology Information and more...

Access, Technology and Communication options for the Disabled Population: Information Shared. Enabling Solutions ~ Opening Doors.

List of apps for communication:

Apps suitable for people with ASD:

Apps for people with ASD, mailing list and regular app review:

Apps for people with complex needs-cause and effect:

Cause and effect apps:

Last Updated : 01 July 2014. Page Author: Laura Bimpson.