Government and industry are “failing to grasp the opportunities” provided by technological breakthroughs that should be allowing disabled people to lead more independent and fulfilling lives, according to a new report.
The report from the Smart Homes and Independent Living Commission, which held its first evidence session last May, says the health and social care system tends to view assistive technology as a way of managing disabled people’s care needs, rather than giving them greater choice and control in their home environment.
And it warns that local and national government are failing to place the principles of independent living at the heart of commissioning of assistive technology, while there is low awareness of the technology’s possibilities among both health and social care staff and disabled people.
The Smarter Homes for Independent Living report says that “substantial advances” in smart devices and smart homes “promise to give disabled and older people unprecedented control over their domestic environments”.
But progress has been hampered by factors such as “poorly targeted investment”, “patchy digital infrastructure”, a shortage of high-quality evidence on the benefits of assistive technology, and a failure to involve disabled and older people in decision-making.
The report on the commission’s work, published by the Policy Connect thinktank, which managed the commission, and set to be launched today (Thursday) at a meeting of the all-party parliamentary group for assistive technology, says smart technology can support independent living in a variety of ways.
Accessible devices can allow the user to operate lights, curtains, heating and other fixtures and appliances such as entertainment systems and automated vacuum cleaners.
The technology can also allow disabled people to engage with their community through news websites and video conferencing, and it can assist service-users to carry out personal care unaided, and to call for assistance if needed.
One user of smart technology told the commission that they used it to control devices like lights and appliances and that it had had “a major positive impact on my life” and provides “far more independence when I am alone at home”.
Another user, who uses smart technology such as a robot vacuum cleaner and devices to heat water and pour hot water, said she did not know “all the things that may be available and I need someone to set them up and teach me to use them.
“I need help when they go wrong or need re-setting. Social care or some local support agency could contact me and help me get what I need.
“I don’t know how you contact the right person. My son has done all of the setting up, but he lives a very long way away.”
Clive Gilbert, policy manager for assistive technology at Policy Connect, and the report’s author and himself a user of assistive technology, said: “Our recommendations will help millions of disabled and older people lead more fulfilling lives by putting their needs and aspirations at the centre of technology design and care services.
“With appropriate support from carers, family members and friends, smart home technology promises to give people more choice and control in their lives.
“To achieve this, we must reform the way technology is used in health and social care services.
“The technology market must also be made to work better for disabled and older consumers.”
Among the report’s recommendations is for the government to pilot a new independent living technology grant that would provide funding to buy low-cost technology.
Another of the commission’s recommendations – calling for clarification that the disabled facilities grant can be used to obtain digital technology solutions for the home – has already been accepted and included in new guidance by the government.
But the report, sponsored by Bournemouth University and Coventry University, also warns of the “acute need” for a framework of “ethical regulation, standards and training” for the care and technology industries to protect disabled and older people’s rights as the use of smart technology becomes more widespread.
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