The Emerging Revolution in Assistive Technology

A fundamental component of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is investment in innovation and research towards economically and socially viable outcomes.   This is a time when people with disabilities and their families can genuinely have a voice in shaping their future.  It is also a time when technology is developing exponentially.  Assistive Technology solutions for people with disabilities are already evolving in previously unimagined ways and with funding for innovation this will continue.

Assistive Technology (AT) is defined by the World Health Organisation as “any device or system that allows individuals to perform tasks they would otherwise be unable to do or increases the ease and safety with which tasks can be performed”¹.

In 2015 the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) released an Assistive Technology strategy. The vision of this strategy is to shape an empowering, viable and stable format for NDIS participants. Scheme members will be informed about options and advances, have timely, funded access to allied health advice, choice in mainstream and individualised solutions and effective methods to purchase, as well as to trial and review, products. The NDIA recognises that this new marketplace will “work best when people with disabilities and their families are engaged in the innovation process and when market information is underpinned by real examples and lived experience”¹. Further information on what isn’t included under Assistive Technology in the NDIS can be found on the NDIS website under Assistive Technology.

NDIA Chairman Bruce Bonyhady, gave a speech in June this year entitled “When Disability Becomes Normality: The Boundless Potential of Technology”, in which he spoke of opportunity.  The NDIS will invest $1billion a year in technological supports and devices.  The already established database will aggregate information to give greater understanding of society and disability.  Technology will offer many varied ways to increase independence, study, training and employment opportunities, social inclusion and daily living solutions for people with disability, while simultaneously fulfilling the fundamental NDIS principle of significant social and economic benefit.

Wheelchairs that convert smoothly to a standing position were virtually unheard of a few short years ago; now many options are available. New Eyegaze software is allowing individuals who cannot click a mouse or tap a screen, to operate a computer, increasing independence and communication options in all life areas. 3D printing is replacing standardised aids with bespoke solutions to suit each unique need and capacity. Wherever there are functional difficulties, technological solutions are being researched offering people with disabilities genuine solutions to increase capacity and move towards their goals and vision for their own good life.

 

¹ NDIA, Assistive Technology Strategy, p. 4 - 12 (October 2015).