Assistive Technology Changes Lives: an assessment of AT need and capacity in England
A new research report, led by Global Disability Innovation (GDI) Hub for the Disability Unit in the Cabinet Office, details the findings from Englands Country Capacity Assessment (CCA) of Assistive Technology (AT).
From November 2022 to March 2023 GDI Hub led the England Country Capacity Assessment of AT using a comprehensive research methodology, including the World Health Organisation (WHO) tools from the Assistive Technology Assessment (ATA) suite.
The findings offer insights into current strengths, challenges and opportunities within current AT delivery across England, to inform a more integrated and impactful approach to Assistive Technology provision.
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 AT?
- 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?
The methodology involved a literature review, led by Staffordshire University, a 7,000-person survey of AT access, delivered in partnership with Opinium, and a series of focus groups and interviews with key informants inclusive of users of AT and those working across service provision.
The WHO “5 Ps” (Policy, Provision, Personnel, Products, People) were utilised as a guiding framework, to support recruitment of participants and the data analysis.
We developed key themes and novel insights from the extensive and rich data gathered.
While some AT 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.
AT 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 AT 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 AT products, while discussions over who would fund what prevailed.
AT users turned to private sourcing of AT, where others might access AT through third sector organisations. AT professionals were working tirelessly to deliver AT, but identified there to be lacking AT accreditation that could help develop the specialism across the different professional groups involved. 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.
Startlingly, the survey results found there to be an AT access gap of 31% of disabled people not having the assistive products they need to flourish, thrive, or even participate in daily life.
Recommendations and conclusions
The evidence gathered portrays a mixed picture of current AT provision across England, and while some strong examples of best practice were found, there is opportunity for improvement. 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 AT which enables them to live the life they have the right to.
Recommendations for improving AT delivery across England are aligned to the London 2012 Disability Inclusion model, which was developed with retrospective framing based on the success of London 2012 Paralympic Games.
The recommendations include:
- Mission setting and central leadership for AT
- Investment in an AT Hub, with central and regional centres to share expertise and build capacity
- Incentivise coordinated AT delivery
- Support and grow the AT workforce
- Develop AT repair capacity
Access the report in full to find further recommendations and details.
This report was prepared by Global Disability Innovation (GDI) Hub for the Disability Unit in the Cabinet Office His Majesty’s Government (HMG).
Grateful thanks are due to: Disability Rights UK, Scope, the British Association of Assistive Technology, Staffordshire University, Opinium, Policy Connect, the GATE team at WHO and all the participants that contributed their ideas and opinions.