Campaigners blaze new trail in appeal for vital technology


Young disabled campaigners have called on the government and the NHS to do more to help them obtain the technology that could transform their lives.

A survey of young disabled people by the campaigning network Trailblazers found three-quarters of them did not have access to the assistive technology they needed because they could not afford it.

A third of the 100 survey respondents said they felt isolated because of a lack of assistive technology, such as adapted smartphone controls, voice recognition technology, and equipment to manage their home environment.

And a third of those questioned had to find more than £5,000 of their own or their family’s money to obtain and maintain the technology they needed.

Every one of the 100 Trailblazers who took part in the survey said that technology had increased their independence.

Many of those who took part in the survey have muscle-wasting conditions, and so struggle to type, grip or hold heavier objects.

A report based on the survey results, Switched On, was launched this week at a meeting of the all-party parliamentary group for young disabled people in the House of Commons.

The report criticises the lack of a central database of adaptive and assistive technology products, assessors, advisors, training providers and related information, which “makes it very difficult for anyone to make adequately informed choices”.

And it warns that assessments for technology often take so long that by the time a disabled person receives the new equipment, their needs have changed.

Jennifer Gallacher, from Middlesbrough, who has spinal muscular atrophy, said: “I’m unable to do many of the simple things people do without even thinking about it, opening the door, going to the toilet or even holding a phone to my ear.

“Technology gives me independence at home. I would be completely lost without it, and totally reliant on my parents.

“It wouldn’t be possible to leave me on my own, even for a few hours.”

Fleur Perry (pictured), from Wiltshire, writes in the report: “My tech offers me work, education, and social opportunities, as I can communicate quickly through email or social media with colleagues, tutors, friends and family.

“I can then discover almost anything I need to know online, cross-check that information and store it, or use it.”

And Michaela Hollywood, from Northern Ireland, who founded Trailblazers in 2008 and was chosen last month by the BBC as one of its 100 inspirational women of 2015, said: “Without technology, life would be intolerable.

“Internet and technology are vital to living an active, healthy lifestyle with a disability. Technology breaks the boundaries down.”

Among the report’s recommendations are for NHS England to ensure that young disabled people “receive the right equipment, consistently and throughout their lifetime”, and for the government to increase health and social care funding for assistive and specialist equipment, “so that young disabled people only need to apply to charities for funding as a last resort”.

They call in the report for the government to work with industry to set up a user-friendly database that shows young disabled people how to acquire items of assistive technology.

They also want the gaming industry to ensure its software is compatible with different forms of assistive technology.

Tanvi Vyas, project manager for Trailblazers, which is part of the charity Muscular Dystrophy UK, said: “Technology has a huge role to play in increasing independence for young disabled people.

“The right assistive gadgets can transform home, university, working and social life.

“Yet too many are missing out because of poor financial support and the often eye-watering costs of buying privately.

“We need the government, NHS and tech firms to work together to bring down costs, and to make it easier for people to find out about what is out there to help them.” 

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