Mainstreaming Access To Assistive Technology Training In Ireland (ATTRAINING)

Published on: 09/09/2008

Assistive Technology is revolutionising the way people with disabilities can live their lives. It enhances access to opportunities and resources in education, employment, communication and independent living. We recognize that knowledge is power, and that access to information about Assistive Technology should be available in all kinds of ways: via the internet, via e-zines, and through the availability of certified training that is inclusive of a diverse range of prospective participants, including Adults with disabilities; Enable Ireland staff (managers, therapists, teachers, personal assistants, teachers and trainers); Families and carers; Non-Enable Ireland personnel (funders, representatives of other service delivery agencies ). We have therefore established an AT Training Course with a view to democratizing access to AT information and enhancing provision of AT services in Ireland. This case study outlines the target audience, beneficiaries and outcomes of this mainstreaming approach to the provision of AT training in an Irish context.

Policy Context

Our primary reference points are, in an Irish context: - Disability Act 2005: which, for the first time, legislated for shared responsibility for disability service provision across five government departments: Departments of Health and Children, Social and Family Affairs; Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Enterprise and Employment; Transport and Communications. This has informed our mainstreaming approach to the development of AT training services nationally. - Equality Act 2004:shift of emphasis from 'reasonable accommodation' to 'disproportionate burden' on employers, thereby increasing the onus on the employer to accommodate an employee with a disability in the workplace. In an EU Context: - Charter of Rights for People with Disabilities: Focus on 'ability'; addressing key features of disability discrimination; explicit documentation of key obligations under 'reasonable accommodation' definition. These reference points have facilitated our discussions with employers, educators and health professionals, enabling us to place Assistive Technology within the context of a wider human rights agenda, and elevating it beyond mere consideration of budget limitations.

Description of target users and groups

Although we established our AT Training programme with the express aim of reaching people with disabilities and those who support them, we quickly recognised that AT is a tool that can be used by a diverse range of people including: Ageing population; People with dyslexia/written language difficulties who do not perceive themselves to be disabled; English as a second language learners; Early school leavers; Those returning to work.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

We work with a range of funders through the development of funding applications, submission of progress reports, annual reports and research findings, to ensure that all parties are kept up to date with the progress and outcomes of our training programmes. For example, we will be embarking on an AT Graduate Survey in October 2008 to ascertain the impact of our certified AT Course on the participants, and to gather data on numbers of people in employment in AT-specific roles, availability of funding for AT at local leve and perceived prospects for a career in AT. We maintain regular contact with Microsoft who are our partners in this particular project, which in turn, has led to other initiatives being implemented in both Microsoft and Enable Ireland (software testing, software developer training, pnline accessible map developments, etc)

Technology solution

Our solutions are vast and diverse, encompassing standard desktop solutions such as Windows Ease of Access features, mobile phone telephony which is switch accessible and/or compatible with screen reading software; voice output communication devices (both hardware and software), and environmental control devices (such as smart home technologies) to enable individuals to control doors, windows, personal leisure equipment, etc remotely.

Technology choice: Proprietary technology, Standards-based technology, Accessibility-compliant (minimum WAI AA), Open source software

Main results, benefits and impacts

We have already collated evidence of the outcomes of our training programme which include: - Increased participation by people with disabilities in mainstream education (at second and third level) - Increased access to employment opportunities - Greater employer awareness of how to accommodate people with disabilities in the workplace - Shared responsibility among funders with regard to AT - Demystification of AT among non-clinical service providers: some of our greatest successes has been in the training of Personal Assistants who can provide intensive and ongoing AT support to the end user, often with far greater impact than occasional therapy support programmes can - Upskilling of diverse workforce in field of AT

Return on investment

Return on investment: Not applicable / Not available

Track record of sharing

- Presentation of our learning at EU Seating Symposium, Dublin May 2007 - Presentation at Irish Association of Teachers in Special Education (IATSE) Conferences 2006, 2007 and 2008 - Hosting of National AT Seminar annually in Enable Ireland - Submission of paper to RAATE 2008 - Attendance by team members at national and international conferences: Closing The Gap, ISAAC, AAATE and Communication Matters Conferences, using networking to share information - In 2007, Microsoft, in partnership with Enable Ireland, won the 'Best CSR Community Programme' at our national Chambers Ireland Awards.

Lessons learnt

We have learned: Lesson 1 - That the whole is greater than the sum of the parts: working in partnership yields many unanticipated dividends including: sharing best practice across the public and private sector, evolving partnership activities beyond original objectives to encompass additional goals, etc. Lesson 2 -That mainstream society is hungry for information and skills sharing in this field of Assistive Technology. We are therefore 'pushing an open door'. Lesson 3 - That technology has so much to offer, and is evolving at such a rapid rate, that we must be careful not to lose track of its developments and thereby risk focusing only on specialised solutions. Harnessing mainstream technology solutions tends to be far more user friendly too, and therefore to have far faster uptake among end users.

Scope: National