This definition was agreed at a King's Fund consultation meeting in March 2001* to replace the term disability equipment. This umbrella term is widely used in the UK because it more accurately reflects the broad range of equipment and services that assist older and disabled people of all ages to maximise their independence. It acknowledges the cross over between inclusively designed, mainstream products and the technology specifically made for disabled and older people.
The key advantage of this definition is that the characteristic outcome is ‘independence’ in contrast to other definitions that set functionality and safety as outcomes. As it was strongly influenced by disabled and older people, it is unsurprising that this definition is in line with the disability movement’s support for the personalisation of services and implies an evaluation of assistive technology services though the measurement, in part at least, of personally-set outcomes.
Given the context of service provision and evaluation within statutory services in the UK it is to be expected that researchers and practitioners often feel comfortable working with a more tightly described definition that imply more generically measurable outcomes.
For the purposes of FAST's work, products and systems are further classified as assistive technology if their adoption and use is under some measure of control by the disabled and older end user and there is a level of meaningful interaction by the end user with the product or system. This therefore excludes telemedicine services such as videoconferencing between a GP and a hospital consultant, using equipment in the hospital and GP surgery, as these technologies are primarily used by, and operated under the control of, the healthcare provider.
Neither does the FASTs work feature research on implanted technologies over which the user has no control or interaction, such as hip replacements. However this classification would lead to the inclusion in the database of research into the use of semi-implanted devices, such as gastrostomy feeding tubes, which are used, cleaned and maintained by the individual at home, though implanted in hospital.
Assistive Technology (AT) is still used to denote a particular sub-range of equipment by different sectors, for example, people working in the education sector tend to define AT as products and services which assist learning: access to computers, both hard and soft ware, communication aids and digital learning aids. Additionally, there has been mention of 'Assistive Technology' within government policy denoting only telecare and telehealth applications. As integration across services to disabled and older people increasingly takes place between health, social care, education, housing and employment services such variation in the use of the term will resolve itself.
*The King's Fund meeting in 2001 was facilitated by FAST and followed wide consultation. Organisations taking part in the meeting to agree the definition were:
Whizz Kidz, Stoke Mandeville Hospital, the Department of Health, Disabled Living Centres Council (now Assist UK), British Healthcare Trades Association, Sussex University, NHS Purchasing and Supplies Agency, the Centre for Disability Research and Innovation (now the Aspire Centre for Disability Sciences), RADAR, Southern Medical Ltd, Nuffield Orthopaedic Hospital, BES Rehab, the West Midlands Rehab Centre, CoRE at King's College London, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Association of British Healthcare Industry and the Medical Devices Agency.