Mike Chambers, Consultant, talks about the role of Assistive Technology helping support people with Learning disabilities and their family and friends. 

I guess like many of us in the housing and care sector, my involvement with telecare and assistive technology happened by chance rather than design. After many years involved in front line service delivery with various client groups, in 2006 I became a Supporting People Commissioner at Hampshire County Council. At that time my knowledge of telecare extended little beyond a basic grasp of hardwired alarms, pendants and base units.  And in truth that was probably sufficient as little else was being used.

The buzz at that time was the new PTG Grant (Preventative Technologies Grant), DoH funding available to Local Authorities to drive up the numbers of older people using telecare and thereby remain living independently in the community, avoiding hospital and residential care admissions. From a standpoint of 10 years onward we can debate if the PTG grant and many other initiatives since have really moved the telecare sector to a place of integration with mainstream care services as was hoped, but there is little doubt it did achieve a significant step change in use and general awareness of the potential and possibilities of telecare. My eyes were opened to the use of fall and movement detectors, gas and flood detectors, epilepsy and enuresis sensors. But, it really struck me, that the focus was nearly entirely exclusive to older people.

Soon after I left HCC and returned to an operational role within the third sector overseeing learning disability services at The YOU Trust. That was the ‘lightbulb’ moment for me! These technologies had huge potential to offer people with a learning disability to live with greater independence, safety and security and I wanted to make that happen! I set up the Smart Living service, a dedicated assistive technology service for people with LD in Hampshire. It is personally rewarding for me to see that service now within the Argenti partnership in Hampshire thriving and the numbers of people with learning disabilities benefiting from AT has grown and grown locally.

The concept of using AT for people with learning disabilities is now well established, with significant cost savings to social care and improved life outcomes for users strongly evidenced. The likes of HfT, Real Life Options and Dimensions to name a few, have embraced and integrated AT within their service models.

But again I feel at a ‘lightbulb’ moment.

Whilst we must of course continue to grow the use of AT within care and supported housing settings, estimates suggest that only 20% of adults with learning disabilities in England are users of specialised social care services. Furthermore 38% of people with a learning disability live with family and friends and over 17% living in independent accommodation as tenants of housing associations / council, in private rent or as home owners. Furthermore, greater numbers of people are in receipt of a personal budget or indeed below social care eligibility thresholds and needing to meet their needs as self-funders. How does this group access assistive technology services? Surely the breadth of technology now on the market could offer users and indeed carers life changing opportunities of independence.

It seems vital to me that we must now focus on developing accessible service models to enable this significant group of people to access and benefit from assistive technology services and products that will enable them to live with greater independence, safety and security in the community.

It has been a genuine pleasure and hugely exciting to work in partnership with Tunstall over the last few months to develop these thoughts and we are now at a stage that we want to hear from Care, Support and Housing providers who are best placed to deliver services that can reach beyond their own accommodation services and out into their communities, enabling people to access assistive technology.