It is hoped that this resource will provide an overview of various provision issues that arise for those seeking the support of assistive technologies including communication aids.
Assistive Technology (AT) can be described as “any product or service designed to enable independence for disabled and older people" (King’s Fund consultation, 2001) and Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) describes ways to help people who find it hard to communicate by speech or writing. (Rourke A., 2006, Ace Centre presentation for DfES)
Both AT and AAC are used across a wide range of environments for an extensive set of tasks, catering for all skills and abilities. The Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit, in its report “Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People” (2005), recognised that equipment “can make all the difference to whether someone can live independently, work, be a parent and participate in their local community”.
When it comes to funding and value for money, it is important to realise that all enabling technologies require the best evaluation possible, support, training and reviewing. The costs are not limited to their initial purchase and an AAC technique does not result in instant communication any more than providing a piano results in an instant musician (Beukelman D.R., & Garrett K.L., (1988)
The initial purchase price of some equipment has fallen over recent years and new technologies can encourage innovative practices in support and the review of user needs, as shown by the Abilitynet webcam and broadband project, AbilityNet, 2006 Remote Assessment).
However, according to Becta, “funding for AT across sectors is both complex and uncoordinated”.(Becta,2006 - Becta’s View Assistive technology - download .PDF) Many agencies may be involved along the route to achieve a successful AT and/or AAC outcome, but not all are able to offer the sort of ‘one stop shop’ approach clients may wish to receive. A survey, undertaken by an AT Forum in West Sussex (2001), highlighted the range of support requested by clients and how none of the 48 organisations questioned could offer all the services outlined.
Types of AT and AAC support offered by 48 organisations. Taken from a report by the West Sussex AT Forum 2001. The support included assessment, training, counselling, information, loans, finance, referral on, advice, advocacy.
FAST has also stressed that procedures need to be clarified at all levels.(FAST, 2006 - Implementing a vision for the provision of assistive technology for communication).