There are 11 million disabled people in Britain  many of whom use assistive technology to lead independent lives. Assistive technology includes equipment for daily living, such as bath hoists, stair lifts, hearing and communication aids and systems such as ’smart homes’ and accessible transport.
There is an urgent need to improve assistive technology services. Advances in healthcare have led to the survival of children born with complex impairments and at the same time the population of England is ageing. In the next 20 years, the number of people 85 and over in England will increase by two-thirds, compared with a 10 per cent growth in the population as a whole. Failing health, the progression of long-term conditions and disease and frailty can all limit people from living their normal lives and make them dependent on the care of others. FAST believes that there are a number of factors that are limiting the uptake of new assistive technologies in the UK.
Limiting factors to the adoption of innovative AT include:
- A lack of collaboration and information sharing between researchers and developers.
- Limited consultation between users of assistive technology and developers, manufacturers and service providers.
In 1993 evidence was collected which confirmed that there was little or no information about research and development and innovative technologies. A joint meeting, hosted by RADAR and the Disabled Living Foundation, concluded that an organisation was needed that would:
- co-ordinate activity in research and development
- create a think tank to encourage new ideas and technology transfer
- document, demonstrate and evaluate innovative and high tech assistive technology.
The Foundation for Assistive Technology was established as a charity in 1998 to address this gap and to do so through building an independent partnership between service providers, users, the research community and manufacturers.
- Funding from the Department of Health was secured in 1999 and the Foundation was commissioned to produce the annual parliamentary report on government-funded research into assistive technology.
- This led to the development in 2000 of a database of information on research and development projects in assistive technology. The database is freely available online to the public and currently includes information on over 800 research projects (commencing after 1999).
- In 2003 the Foundation gained funding to establish the only UK collaborative group of service users and carers, providers, and manufactures in the field, the AT Forum, for which it works as the executive body. The Forum has been influential over its three years of funding and has put in place the foundations for the necessary infrastructure in the field of AT, for example, standards for service provision and to underpin workforce development.
[1: Source: Disability Rights Commission]