Advances in assistive technology are improving the quality of life for people with complex brain injury. Young people, children and babies in particular are benefiting from this technological evolution…
The evolution of technology continues exponentially. A few years ago, none of us would have imagined that we would be able to talk to a smart speaker in our home, get it to order shopping, find recipes, play games and so on. Or that a doorbell would enable us to talk to (and see!) visitors to our home when we are miles away. These developments are making everyday life easier for us all.
But it is in the area of assistive technology where advancements are making a huge difference to the quality of life of people with complex brain injury – especially for children and young people.
Assistive Technology is fundamentally any kind of technology or equipment that has been either adapted or specially designed to improve how a disabled person functions in their daily lives. In fact, those smart speakers we mentioned are just the tip of the iceberg – the latest Amazon Echo has recently been advertised featuring people with disabilities, because the voice control can be of great benefit to those who have limited/no use of their limbs.
And why is this technology particularly beneficial to babies, children and young people with complex brain injury? They will get the best start in life if they can develop and engage with their education and with the people around them – and assistive technology can help with that. The sooner they start, the less their disadvantage will be. Assistive technology can help them communicate with others, it can offer them independence, a different way to learn – and of course can also be used for entertainment, helping them to enjoy the things that other children expect to do as a matter of course.
Aids for Communication
Aids for communication can include things as simple as charts and picture books – but technology offers the use of electronic communication equipment that can be operated using a switch or joystick, or even by moving the eyes. The ability to use voice output technology can enable people to take part in conversations with those around them and stop them feeling isolated.
Special software and other adaptations can allow children with complex brain injury to use PCs, games consoles, tablets and mobile phones – encouraging independence as they can use these devices themselves.
For those who struggle with reading, e-books can come as audio files, and PCs, smartphones and tablets can be equipped with text-to-speech software that can read aloud anything on the screen. Audio recorders are useful for children who find it hard to take notes in a class.
For anyone with attention issues, hearing issues, or language processing problems, frequency modulation (FM) systems help to cut back background noise in the classroom and amplify the teacher’s words, to aid concentration.
It can be beneficial for the carers of these children and young people, to be trained in using the technology, and how to update it, so that access to the technology is not interrupted.
Assistive Tech in Action
Embrace HR MD, Cecily Lalloo, saw assistive technology in action when she attended a BABICM webinar by Mike Thrussell of Access Technology. Access Technology use assistive technology to help people with disabilities do what they want to do. Here’s what she had to say after the webinar:
“Mike first introduced us to Al, a 17-year old who is non-verbal and has physical disabilities. Al took over the presentation and showed us how he is studying maths and the sciences using off-the-shelf software with his iPad and computers but with access to his devices in a way that is easier for him to use.
“He is also a gamer and he is so adept and innovative, that he has been contacting Mike, with suggestions and ideas to further make use of technology to help him, and possibly others. He has an adapted joystick to play his games on his Xbox.
“Mike has been working with Al for many years and says that his parents are very supportive so that Al can live a fulfilling life and do things that any 17-year-old would like to do. Al is now an Ambassador for Mike’s company and asked Mike if he could do his work placement with him.
“It was lovely watching him, an intelligent and proud young man, achieve what he set his mind to do. I smiled as he corrected his Mum … ‘it’s an Xbox, Mum,’ he said when she mentioned his Playstation.
“Next up was Kit, who is 7 years old. His parents have been working with Mike since their son was 4 years old. Mike explained that he had to find a way to make Kit aware of ’cause and effect’. Through much research, he discovered that Kit loved the feeling of being ‘jiggled’. So they sited pads on either side of his head on his wheelchair, showed him that when his head hit the pads, it activated his computer. He took a long and hard look at what was on the screen and this activated his wheelchair to jiggle. This made Kit laugh as he enjoyed the sensation.
“But the head movements weren’t easy for him and through further research Mike set up a pad close to his knee. This enabled him to move his knee to hit the pad, and the same action would present the screen for him to look at to activate the jiggling movement of his chair. Once Kit learnt about cause and effect, Mike went on to set up cartoons that would jiggle and Kit learnt to activate them, which gave him enormous pleasure.
“Over the years they have progressed, and Kit uses his knee pad to switch lights on and off in the home. The lights are controlled by remote, so Kit uses the switches that the rest of the family use. This means he is included despite his disabilities. Using Bluetooth, he also helps his Mum with the cleaning as he instructs ‘Alexa’ to vacuum.”
Mike’s ethos is to enable people with disabilities such as Al and Kit to live the best life they can, making use of technology and what is around us to help them do what they want to do. In a few years Mike says things will have changed dramatically. And we need to keep up.
If you would like to discuss this subject further, please contact Cecily Lalloo at Embrace HR Limited.
T: 01296 761288 or contact us here.
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Based in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, Embrace HR Limited provide a specialised HR service to the care sector, from recruitment through to exit.