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A report exploring assistive technology delivery and provision across England has made a series of important recommendations to inform a more integrated and impactful approach.

Entitled ‘Assistive Technology Changes Lives: an assessment of AT need and capacity in England’, the report, led by Global Disability Innovation (GDI) Hub for the Disability Unit in the Cabinet Office, details the findings from England’s Country Capacity Assessment (CCA) of Assistive Technology (AT).

The findings offer insights into current strengths, challenges, and opportunities within current assistive technology delivery across England to ensure provision is joined up and can be accessed equally by those who need it.

The research set about striving to answer the following research questions, set by the Disability Unit at the Cabinet Office:

  • What are the met and unmet population needs regarding access to assistive technology?
  • What is the country’s capacity to meet the identified (met and) unmet need?
  • What is the impact of assistive and accessible technology on the people who use it?

From November 2022 to March 2023, GDI Hub led the England CCA of AT using a comprehensive research methodology, including the World Health Organization (WHO) tools from the Assistive Technology Assessment (ATA) suite.

The methodology involved a literature review, led by Staffordshire University; a 7,000-person survey of assistive technology access, delivered in partnership with Opinium; and a series of focus groups and interviews with key informants inclusive of users of assistive technology and those working across service provision. WHO’s “5 Ps” (Policy, Provision, Personnel, Products, People) were utilised as a guiding framework to support recruitment of participants and the data analysis.

The findings reveal that while some assistive technology delivery systems and specialist services were found to provide quality products and services that have a strong, positive impact on people’s lives, many processes were found to be slow and stressful for users and providers alike.

Assistive technology provision was found to be “highly fragmented” across the country, as access greatly varied depending on a person’s home or registered GP address, level of perceived need, service criteria, and differing funding streams between health, education and social care.

There was a notable lack of joined-up thinking and missed opportunity for holistic assistive technology delivery that considered the whole individual across their life-course and diverse needs. Many people were found to be waiting months – and even years – to access essential assistive technology products, while discussions over who would fund what prevailed, the report underlines.

Assistive technology users turned to private sourcing of assistive technology, where others might access assistive technology through third sector organisations.

Assistive technology professionals were working tirelessly to deliver assistive technology but identified there to be lacking assistive technology accreditation that could help develop the specialism across the different professional groups involved, research shows. There were pockets of expertise and services working to try and share knowledge and capture impact data, however services were often constrained by over demand and staff-shortages.

Backing this finding up, a recent report from the ATech Policy Lab agreed that training frontline professionals in assistive technology can be highly effective and enables them to share assistive technology awareness with their clients, patients, and learners.

Worryingly, GDI Hub’s survey also found there to be an assistive technology access gap of 31 percent of disabled people not having the assistive products they need to flourish, thrive, or participate in daily life.

The evidence gathered portrays a mixed picture of current assistive technology provision across England and while some strong examples of best practice were found, there is opportunity for improvement, GDI Hub stresses.

The report outlines a series of recommendations to most rapidly and efficiently cultivate change across the sector, so that more people have the opportunity to access the assistive technology that enables them to live the life they have the right to.

These include mission setting and central leadership for assistive technology; investment in an AT Hub, with central and regional centres to share expertise and build capacity; incentivise coordinated assistive technology delivery; support and grow the assistive technology workforce; and develop assistive technology repair capacity.

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