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DSA Summit takes the high ground

Sunley Conference Centre, Northampton UniversityChair Antony Ruck reminded the 3o delegates at BATA’s recent Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSA) Summit in Northampton that DSA had enabled the UK to be a forerunner in supporting students, and that modernisation was appropriate, but needed to be carried out sensitively.  The UK AT industry leads the world, and initiatives like the DSA and Access to Work have wider benefits than just the immediate effect, and has implications across the economy and social care, he said.

In the years since the modernisation was announced there has been a large degree of uncertainty, with changes in government, ministers, departments and civil servants. The number of assistive technology service providers has declined from 21 to 8, and SFE data suggests that since the introduction of the £200 contribution there has been a 20% drop in the number of students obtaining the equipment recommended in their Needs Assessment Report. We now welcome Greg Boone to his role at DfE and look forward to working with him to safeguard the benefits of the DSA.

DSA: the last five years

Ian Litterick gave a detailed outline of the events that had occurred over the past five years including the announcement of the modernisation programme by David Willetts, BATA’s lobbying, efforts to move away from a three quotes requirement, meetings with ministers and civil servants, the successful campaign against the introduction of a single tender and the transfer of responsibility for DSA from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills to the Education Department.

General discussion

 There was a request for a copy of the guidance and letter relating to the legal challenge. Eighty percent of calls from students were to do with software, not hardware, said one delegate.

The question of alternatives to the three quote system was raised. There was little desire among delegates to press for change at this stage.

One company had asked the Students Loan Company to link DSA2 letters to when students applied for DSA. It reported a 6.9% drop in equipment orders since the £200 charge was introduced and argued for more student choice of both supplier and equipment.

One delegate asked what the point of an assessment is when the opinions of assessors are ignored.

It was suggested that the All-party Parliamentary Group for AT should be used to effect change. It was also pointed out the APPG-AT did not have the ability to intervene directly in Government policy, but would be a very useful conduit to educate Parliamentarians on the benefits of AT and the DSA.

BATA was urged to define the value for money that AT provided to counter any possible move to single sourcing or framework contracts.

It was argued that we needed to improve the take up of technology by improving the training process, the implementation of technology and support for what is often an emotional journey towards using AT successfully.

It was suggested a BATA campaign to improve awareness of DSA. Students’ needs changed at different stages of their course.

Students were doubly disadvantaged in that they had to learn their way around a new institution as well as how to use AT. Coventry University is running tasters for potential students that could include training in the use of assistive software.

There was agreement among attendees that better information about DSA was required. Much of what was captured was inconsistent. Was it true, one attendee asked, that 25% of students did not take up NMH? Since it was accepted under 50% of students have any training under NMH, it was suggested that mandatory training should be a condition of a DSA grant.

BATA should embrace mainstream IT firms with an interest in AT and accessibility, such as Microsoft, Google and Amazon, because they raised awareness of AT. The Association should identify the requirements that students have as a counter to a possible move to the functional specification of AT.

BATA policy and next steps

The chair identified a number of key areas for attendees to consider and noted them on a flip chart. A number of individuals volunteered to follow-up with specific actions. The areas outlined were as follows:

  • Challenge to £200 charge
  • Functional specification as opposed to recommending named products
  • Student choice policy (DSA vs HEP reasonable adjustments)
  • Accreditation of trainers and assessors
  • Quality (value for money and HEP requirements)
  • Attraction and adoption
  • Better data (from BIS, SLC, QAG with consistent recording)
  • Lobbying (using All-Party Parliamentary Group for AT and promotion of the arguments for DSA)
  • Partnerships and relationships

Challenge to £200 charge

It was confirmed there was a decrease in the number of students applying for DSA of 17.5% after the introduction of the charge. “They are opting not to go for equipment with the result we are penalising those from more deprived backgrounds,” said one delegate.  The question was raised of how many higher education providers currently refund the £200 charge to see whether more might be encouraged to do the same.  Actions agreed were:

  • To lobby for £200 charge to be included on student loans.
  • Facilitate awareness raising of those universities that refunded the charge via student money advice services.
  • Press DFE to provide up-to-date data and to admit there has been a drop in applications.

Actions:

  • Lobby for the £200 charge to be added to student loans.
  • An earlier briefing document sent to MPs was to be crculated to MPs.

Functional specification

 BATA policy is to oppose any move to functional specification of specialist software and specialist hardware. The specification group that used to meet under the auspices of QAG is moribund and would be better moderated by DfE.

Actions:

  • To propose to DfE that the functional specification group should be outside QAG.
  • To create a policy for BATA

Student choice

How do we assist students in choosing the right kit and supplier under DSA? A student charter “to stop students being railroaded into unsuitable choices” was proposed. Students needed to be involved in modernisation and, operationally, given access to information about technology. One delegate argued for a page of advice on BATA’s website to guide students. It was pointed out that students don’t know they have a choice. The guidance should major on rights. Past DSA students could also provide testimonials.

Actions:

  • STo appeal to members for suggestions for a student advice page.
  • To draw up a student charter.

Accreditation

There is no accreditation for trainers at present. It was agreed that BATA’s policy should be to push for trainers to receive proper training and be accredited as such. Every student has the right to quality and trainers should understand the products they are recommending and their associated study skills. DBS should be a legal requirement for those who work with disabled students. It was suggested that trainers who were accredited should be BATA members. And that an NMH special interest group should be set up with a recruitment drive among NMH practitioners.

Actions:

  • Approach DfE with a view to the department mandating accreditation for trainers
  • Look into funding streams for setting up an accreditation scheme.
  • Draw up a list of NMH providers to be approached to join BATA.

Quality

 The summit agreed it was important in pushing forward the quality agenda to establish relationships with other stakeholders. Lobbying on quality was important, as was ensuring better data on key aspects of DSA. It was agreed that BATA policy should be to lay down minimum amounts of time for student training.

Attraction and adoption

 All students should be aware of DSA and BATA should work with schools, colleges and UCAS to raise their awareness. Suggestions for awareness raising included a Facebook and Twitter campaign and posters (deemed less effective than social media) with the aim of BATA being the go to source for information about DSA. There was discussion about the educationalist special interest group which is open to non-members. Reaching out to groups such as NASEN and NATSPEC was suggested as one way to drive more members to the group.

Actions:

  • Start a social media campaign.

Partnerships and relationships

Potential partners include IAC, CILIT, ADSHE, NADP, NMHA, PATOSS, AMOSSHE, ASASA, and AHEAD. They should be encouraged to join BATA and its special interest groups.

Actions:

  • Establish relationships with stakeholders
  • Include all attendees on the DSA group

John Lamb August 2017

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David Atkinson recalls an audience at the Vatican

David Atkinson with his wife and members of the Vincentian Family
David Atkinson (centre, next to the statue) with his wife Debbie and members of the Vincentian Family

I was invited into the Vatican City because an Italian friend of mine for over 30 years called Pepe became a priest and climbed the ladder to become a Monsignor working in the Vatican.

My wife Debbie and I had planned a a couple of weeks’ holiday in Italy and we were invited to stay in Rome for a few days with my friend at his house about 1 km from the Vatican.

I have to say not being a Catholic myself I am still trying to understand the different sections of the Catholic Church, but he is attached to section called the Vincentian Family, named after a 17th century French priest called St Vincent de Paul. There are Vincentian houses are all over the world.

The one we stayed in was the head house in which  the General Superior of the Vincentian Family lived. Apparently in every house of this kind in the world there is picture on the wall of the Pope and the General Superior called Father Tomaž Mavrič, a charming man who can speak in seven languages.

On our second night there we were invited to share a meal with him and many of the visiting priests from all over the world they had staying there.

This is where the discussion of what I am involved in, in the UK, came up. He was very interested in AT and how our systems in the UK work for our students so we had a good chat, translated in multiple languages to the others in the room.

I went on to explain how I am a member of BATA and that as a group we lobby and fight for our disabled people and students in every way we can.

I explained that through this system in the UK we are possibly the leaders in assistive technology throughout the world and would love to involve other countries.

OK, so a nice evening I thought and fantastic that I could share what we are doing in the UK. Then to our surprise, the next morning they said they would take us to see some of Rome where normal tourists don’t go, little did we know what was in store!

As we got close to St Peters we could see the main gates of the Vatican City. Up to the gates we went, the guards saluted our car and we drove straight in. They just looked around, smiled at me and Debbie and said they have someone for me to meet.

At this stage I was feeling kidnapped but in a nice way. We eventually arrived at a Bishop’s quarters where they introduced me and asked me to explain again about BATA and the UK’s way of looking after our students with learning needs, as they translated into Italian.

At the end I was thanked profusely and told to keep them informed of any changes and this information would be shared among the people who would be interested. All quite surreal at this point but they were very kind and then gave us a guided tour around the Vatican City.

I have no idea what if anything will come of it but just to get an interest in the work we do was fantastic. We have to remember that in Italy the Vatican City plays a major role in catering for people with special needs most of the people.

For me, if I have just planted a seed for them to maybe one day want to follow our lead it was well worth the time. As for myself and Debbie, well, how lucky are we?

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HMRC guidance on VAT on computer equipment for disabled people

Introduction

This is a draft of updated wording for guidance on zero rating computer equipment for disabled people.

It follows recent events including: the iansyst tribunal ruling,  HMRC’s decision not to appeal it; HMRC’s consequent proposal to remove the Extra Statutory Concession on computers because it is no longer necessary; discussions on detail between BATA and HMRC; and HMRC’s suggestion at the last meeting that BATA should itself suggest guidance that would meet BATA members’ needs for clarity and consistency.

VAT guidance on the topic comes in two places – paragraph 4.6 of VAT notice 701/7 on VAT reliefs for disabled and older people and HMRC’s internal manual which is published on the web. The latter would normally be expected to have a section elaborating on the topic for VAT staff who need to give further guidance to suppliers, charities and disabled people.

Ian Litterick

22/6/2017

VAT Notice 701/7: VAT reliefs for disabled and older people

(https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/vat-notice-7017-vat-reliefs-for-disabled-people)

4.6 Computer devices and systems

Computer devices and systems are increasingly being used as aids to disability. Most are general use products which may be useful for disabled people but are designed to be used by disabled and non-disabled people alike including desktops, laptops, tablets, smart phones and eReaders. Such products can only be bought VAT free when they are sold as part of an assistive technology system. This involves pre-installing additional specialist software specifically required by the disabled individual making the purchase, allowing the complete system to be defined as designed solely for use by that disabled person. The disabled person must sign a standard declaration that they are disabled and that the supply is for their domestic or personal use. The supplier must keep this as evidence for zero rating. See 3.6 above.  The declaration may not be necessary in respect of the Disabled Students’ Allowances scheme as only eligible persons are entitled to DSA but a copy of the report detailing the purchaser’s specific requirements must be kept.

If an assistive technology (AT) system can be liable to the zero-rated VAT treatment, then other “ancillary” supplies and services may also be zero rated if made as part of a single supply. (See 5 above. “Services of installation, repair, maintenance, warranty and adaptation of goods”). This includes installation and setup, repair, maintenance and training on the assistive technology system when the training is given as a part of the supply.

Training will often be a separate supply, in which case this will be subject to VAT.

The zero-rated relief does not also extend to the separate purchase of download software licenses not pre-installed as part of an AT system. These will be treated as e-services, liable to standard rated treatment, unless the software is supplied as physical goods.

Some supplies such as a Braille printer or Braille keyboard may also be zero rateable as part of an assistive technology system, or even when sold on their own, because they were themselves designed solely for use by disabled people. Other peripherals such as scanners, printers and cameras may also be zero rated if they form part of a single supply and are ancillary to the main supply.

In schemes such as the Disabled Students’ Allowances there is an independent assessment of need. Otherwise the supplier must record and keep evidence (on the eligibility declaration for example) as to why they have zero rated such elements as part of an assistive technology system. All decisions leading to zero rating must have their evidence recorded in an auditable trail for any subsequent inspection.

In order to zero rate individual products, whether hardware or software, the manufacturer or importer must certify that it has been designed solely for use by disabled people. A copy of this certificate should be provided to any reseller who intends to zero rate the product.  If in doubt, the manufacturer or importer should apply for confirmation from HMRC as per paragraph 4.5.3 above.

This approval process is not required for each assistive technology system that includes an off-the-shelf computer device, which is why suppliers are advised to keep auditable documentation of each decision that leads to zero rating the whole system. This is so they can evidence meeting all three criteria for the zero-rating of equipment and appliances under the VAT Act 1994 Schedule 8 Group 12 item 2(g). The equipment is:

(i)            designed solely for use by a disabled person,

(ii)           supplied to a disabled person (or a charity that makes it available for use by a disabled person), and

(iii)          is for domestic or the personal use of the disabled person.

Guidance for HMRC internal manual

https://www.gov.uk/hmrc-internal-manuals/vat-relief-for-disabled-people

VRDP1600 Computers

In many cases the specific treatment of VAT on assistive technology products supplied to disabled people is not material to the exchequer – either the supply is funded from government grants through schemes such as Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs) or Access to Work (AtW), or the equipment is being purchased by a VAT registered employer. In these cases zero rating merely results in a redistribution between government departments. However, individual suppliers may seek rulings to ensure that they have no difficulties at VAT inspections and suppliers as a whole, e.g., through the British Assistive Technology Association, will seek rulings for the sake of consistency and fair competition. The rulings will also be important for those disabled people who are paying for equipment with their own money who may well be out of work or otherwise socially and economically disadvantaged.

HMRC has accepted the judgement of the First-Tier Tribunal in iansyst Ltd (TC05126) that assistive technology systems based on off-the-shelf computing equipment (including laptops, tablets and mobile phones) with assistive software preinstalled can be zero rated when supplied to disabled people for their domestic or personal use. Therefore, the view has been taken that such systems as a whole have been “designed solely for use by disabled people”, and thus come directly within Schedule 8 (Zero-Rating) of the VAT Act without the need for the Extra Statutory Concession which previously applied to computers.

The purpose of zero rating equipment for disabled people is to lower the additional costs that disabled people need to pay for their assistive technology, rather than to lower the cost of standard equipment that disabled people also need to buy.

Suppliers of assistive technology will generally prefer to zero rate supplies when they can do so. Thus  the question will arise: when is a supply ancillary to the main supply and so part of a single, zero rateable, supply, or when is it a separate supply and so liable to the standard rated treatment. Our guidance on Single and multiple supplies (VATSC80000) applies, but we have also given specific guidance in the past to try to encourage consistency. That specific guidance is in VAT Notice 701/7 at paragraph 4.6. and below.

An assistive technology system can be created, based on an off-the-shelf computing device, by pre-installing additional specialist software specifically required by the disabled individual making the purchase. This allows the complete system to be defined as designed solely for use by that disabled person and so be zero rateable. Some at least of the additional preinstalled software itself will also usually have been designed solely for use by disabled people, so is zero rateable in its own right when sold as physical goods rather than an electronic download. (If sold as a download, these will be treated as electronically supplied services under Article 59 (k) of EU Principal VAT Directive and Annexe II, and so be liable to standard rated treatment.) Additional preinstalled speech recognition may also allow zero rating of the complete system although the speech recognition was not specifically designed for disabled people. There may be other cases where the whole has been designed solely for use by disabled people, when none of the individual parts have.

AT systems will often be supplied with training on how to use the AT system. Suppliers may need guidance as to whether this supply is ancillary (and therefore also zero rateable) or a separate supply and therefore standard rated. A guide to being ancillary in this context is if it is recommended, quoted for (if applicable) and ordered in conjunction with the AT system, invoiced by the same supplier and supplied within a reasonable period of the main supply.

AT suppliers may also wonder about the correct treatment of extended warranties, which are often sold with AT systems.  Extended warranties are often written as insurance policies and so are exempt from VAT. However, extended warranties and insurance, when ordered sold and invoiced with the main supply, will often be ancillary to that supply and so carry the same VAT rate (e.g. zero if the main supply is zero rated.) See VAT Notice 701/36: insurance 4.2.1. They are ancillary if “they do not constitute an aim in themselves but rather a means of better enjoying the principal supply”.

Some supplies such as a Braille printer or Braille keyboard may also be zero rateable as part of an assistive technology system, or even when sold on their own, because they were themselves designed solely for use by disabled people. Other peripherals such as scanners, printers and cameras may also be zero rated if they form part of a single supply and are ancillary to the main supply.

For example, a camera could be a part of the zero-rateable system if it forms an integral part of the system to help a reading impaired person access text, but not if it is just to be used as an ordinary camera. A printer could be part of the zero-rateable system if the nature of the disability is such as to need paper based large print or printing on coloured paper, but not if the customer has no printing requirements specifically arising from their disability.

In order to zero rate individual products, whether hardware or software, the manufacturer or importer must certify that it has been designed solely for use by disabled people. A copy of this certificate should be provided to any reseller who intends to zero rate the product.  If in doubt, the manufacturer or importer should apply for confirmation from HMRC as per paragraph 4.5.3 above. The application for a letter of confirmation needs to include evidence about the design intention which may include:

  • Patent applications,
  • Design briefs,
  • Development discussions,
  • User trials,
  • Marketing literature and web pages,
  • Evidence that the manufacturer, publisher and/or importer specialise in products for people with disabilities.

None of these individual indicators are necessarily conclusive. The fact that a product can be useful to a non-disabled person is also not conclusive evidence that it has not been “solely” designed for disabled people.

Note – There has sometimes been confusion as to whether equipment can be supplied zero rated for work purposes. The VAT Act wording is “for domestic or personal use”. Assistive technology is by definition for personal use, even if this is in a work context. As mentioned above, in many cases this will be immaterial as the entity buying the equipment will be registered for VAT and the supply will not be directly to the disabled person. But purchase by an individual for work purposes can be zero rated where the personal use requirement is met.

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BATA YouTube Channel

Have you looked at our YouTube Channel? There are lots of useful resources for all sectors but especially higher education. BATA members have been busy sharing their content with you and our YouTube channel becomes a one-stop shop to see how assistive technology can really help students.

Take a look at BATA YouTube Channel , subscribe to individual providers and get the latest information on assistive technology. DSA assessors may find this a helpful resource

BATA YouTube Channel

 

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AT for the 21st century and beyond

Over 10 million people in the UK have some form of physical or sensory disability, and that number is rising steadily with the country’s ageing demographic profile. More than 65% of disabled people are over 65, a minority are born disabled.

This fact, combined with the continuing explosive growth of new technologies – mobile services, internet and mobile technologies – means that no one can ignore the issues surrounding the assistive technology and access to online services.

Since 1995 organisations have been required by the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and later by the Equality Act, which replaced it, to make reasonable adjustments to their websites and IT systems to allow customers and employees to access them.

In the public sector the Disability Equality Duty, introduced in 2006, goes further; requiring authorities to draw up policies relating to all aspects of disabled access.

However, the evidence is that despite tougher laws, many disabled people are still excluded from taking part in our increasingly digital economy, with disastrous results in terms of their ability to work and live independently.

Businesses are losing out too: disabled people represent a market worth at least £240bn per year, according to estimates by the Institute of Employment Studies.

With disabled adults of working age only half as likely to be in work as non-disabled people, their exclusion is also a waste of skills.

The degree of assistance that people need in using IT varies enormously. However, solutions need not be complicated or too costly. Sometimes access will involve providing special purpose software or hardware, but in many cases it will be a matter of adjusting off-the-peg systems so that they are more comfortable to use.

Users may need help to set up systems, but in many cases users will be able to make changes themselves through built-in accessibility features. Users who have difficulties seeing or whose body movements are limited need most assistance.

Talking devices that use screen reader software and programs that magnify text or allow users to adjust the appearance of information are invaluable to people with sight problems or who suffer from dyslexia.

Those with physical difficulties may require other ways of entering data and controlling a system than via a conventional keyboard or a mouse. A variety of alternative devices are available to plug into desktop systems including trackballs, switches and adapted keyboards.

What technologies will enhance the lives of disabled people in the future?

In the main they are technologies that are going to affect everyone, but disabled people have their own particular take on these developments and possibly stand to gain a lot more.

3-D printing is already being widely used as a cheap means of producing custom built adaptations for wheelchairs, orthotics and other assistive devices.

Wearable technology such as glasses, watches and clothes promises a much more intimate relationship between digital services and disabled users. Instead of bulky input devices such as keyboards, wearable computing can be controlled through gestures and eye movements.

Driverless cars promise the freedom of the road to those who can’t drive a car today because they cannot see well enough or manipulate the controls. “Too many people are underserved by the current transport system. They are blind, or too young to drive, or too old, or intoxicated,” says Google’s founder Sergey Brin.

Robots are likely to make a big impact on disabled people’s lives in terms of providing care and the kind of services previously only available from other humans.

All of these technologies and lots more besides are going to be needed as the world’s population ages rapidly. Between 2000 and 2050, the proportion of the world’s population over 60 years old will double from about 11% to 22%, according to the World Health organisation.

Among these people the greatest causes of disability are visual impairment, dementia, hearing loss and osteoarthritis. Older disabled people will put massive strain on our ability to care for these people. Technology will be vital in supporting them and enabling them to live safe, fulfilling lives.

John Lamb

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Raising the awareness of assistive technology

Assistive technology has come of age when members of parliament decide the time is right to set up a group dedicated to the field.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Assistive Technology is composed of members of both houses of parliament and supported by outside organisations such as BATA.

The Group aims to disseminate knowledge, generate debate and facilitate engagement with assistive technology.

The timing is spot on since this small, vital and ingenious area of technological endeavour is entering a perfect storm of change.

From the north, the chill winds of austerity and cuts are still blowing and are likely to continue to do so for some time.

Despite falling prices, disabled people continue to struggle to fund the equipment that in many areas of life is vital for accessing digital services.

From the south, balmier winds are blowing. The apps revolution and plunging manufacturing costs mean that the range of assistive technology available to disabled people has never been greater.

Assistive technology even looks prettier and is certainly more available, as increasing numbers of mainstream manufacturers incorporate assistive elements into their products.

Hearing aids connected to the internet, spectacles that can identify people’s faces and driverless cars are just some of the innovations that promise to give disabled people greater independence.

Further turbulence is being injected into this high tech weather system by difficulties in developing assistive technology and persuading people to try out new things.

Although there is no shortage of bright ideas coming forward it is becoming more difficult to bring them to market as money and expertise becomes scarcer.

It is also important to manage expectations. Often people can have exaggerated ideas about how quickly and easily AT can deliver. It requires support, training and proper supervision to be effective.This is doubly so when 65% of disabled people are offer 65.

The outlook for assistive technology in the Palace of Westminster looks bright but outside the Westminster bubble, however, the weather is much more changeable.

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Switch Access

For those who have little or no manual dexterity and fine motor skills switch access is an alternative to using a keyboard.

What is a switch? Essentially it is like using a light switch. It is just an “on/off” device that toggles between those two actions. Switches can be simple round plastic coloured discs and can be either wired or wireless.

What is important is there needs to be an interface between the switch and the computer. A programmable switch box such as Crick’s USB Switch Box (£99) is one such device. The Switch Box allows keys on a keyboard such as the space bar and enter keys to be programmed to work as a switch.

 

Some physical disabilities require a method of keeping the device in place such as a felt-back board which switches can be velcro’d to like the Maxcess Tray. Clamps that fix to tables and wheelchairs may also be needed.

Having a reliable means of access is important for switch users. Also it is important to consider the eye-level view of the user – to see what they see. Lastly , there needs to be good posture that works in the best way for the condition of the user

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Unleashing true potential through AT

In the UK, the government has made great strides in improving the lives of the disabled from an early age. The government’s Disabled Students’ Allowances and Access to Work schemes ensure that those with dyslexia continue to be supported throughout their life.

On the downside, those with dyslexia can often fail to self-identify, meaning they can go undiagnosed for many years, potentially struggling in silence with the condition.

To underline the consequences of this situation, research by the World Literacy Foundation found that illiteracy costs the UK economy more than £81 billion each year. Employers must therefore begin to encourage an open culture in which workers can unashamedly declare their dyslexia – if only for the benefit of the wider UK economy.

In fact, the longer it takes to intervene to diagnose literacy difficulties, the greater the cost, not just financially, but socially as well. Analysis by the Department for Education showed that pupils who entered secondary school with very low literacy skills had an exclusion rate five times that of pupils who were more able to read and write, while studies by Dyslexia Action have demonstrated that there is an over-representation within the UK prison population of those with literacy difficulties and dyslexia.

If you add to these alarming figures the unfortunate number of students who leave education with poor results and poorer self-esteem because of their dyslexia, it’s clear that those with literacy difficulties risk being pigeonholed and led to believe they are inferior from an early age. We must act now to intervene early and ensure literacy difficulties are identified and acted upon swiftly, so as to save the development of more pernicious issues further down the road.

Encouraging or helping an individual to self-identify can be a catalyst for change in a person’s life and bring about a huge benefit psychologically as they begin to navigate issues they had perhaps struggled with before. Every provider of assistive technology knows the transformative effect it can have on a person with dyslexia, a SEN student, a struggling reader or writer, a person with low literacy levels or an EAL learner, helping them to be more independent and engaged learners, whilst allowing them to better reach their potential.

Tools such as text-to-speech can benefit struggling readers with comprehension and understanding. Mind mapping software can assist with brainstorming and the management of complex information for those who struggle with organisation. Screen masking features can tint the screen to make it easier to read for those with Irlens syndrome or simply provide contrast for ease of reading and audio making tools allow for greater independence to learn on the go.

Assistive technology is just one enabler for those who suffer from literacy difficulties, but it’s certainly the most cost-effective method by saving the cost of additional teachers. Most importantly, students should never feel they are a ‘special’ or ‘unusual’ case. In aid of this, assistive technology equals the playing field by allowing students to participate in class at their own pace, whilst playing to their strengths.

Above all, assistive technology makes for more confident and happier individuals, emotionally happy and more ready to grip life’s chances. BATA is a key organisation to provide support and information for those looking for suitable AT resources to suit individual needs.

Like Richard Branson, Steve Jobs and Jamie Oliver, who have dyslexia, there is an innovator in each of us – and identifying the right AT support may just be the first step in unleashing true potential.

Elaine Crawford

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Ensuring a safe and more satisfying old age

Everyone experiences impairments to their sight, hearing, cognitive powers and mobility as they get older: over 65s represent the largest group of disabled people.

Fortunately there is a growing range of assistive products that enhance the capabilities of older people and enable them to live more independently. Many assistive features are now found in mainstream consumer products.

Magnification systems help combat sight loss and enable people to continue reading despite poorer vision.

Modern hearing aids that eliminate background noise are essential to help people overcome hearing impairment, as are smartphone-based text relay services that turn voice into text for those who are profoundly deaf.

Technology can also assist people with dementia, safeguarding them by means of tracking systems and acting as a prompt, reminding them of the information they need to live independently. Voice recognition is a boon for those who can neither use a keyboard or push buttons.

Most people prefer to continue living in their own homes, if they can, rather than move into care institutions. Assistive technologies and sensors in the home that monitor people’s movements lead to an increased sense of safety and security at home and reassurance for relatives.

They can also play an important role in making the best use of scarcer manpower in a time of reduced budgets for social care.

Unfortunately, assistive technology is not always well understood by those involved with caring for older people. There is a lack of readily available information and not enough attention is paid to training care professionals in the application and management of technology.

Of course, technology is an additional cost for older people and although prices have been coming down in recent years more could be done in this area.

Some technology is available through Government schemes – wheelchairs and adapted cars, for example – but more needs to be done to make more assistive technology available free or at a low-cost.

Product and software designers must aim to follow universal design principles, including assistive features in products that are designed for everyone to use.

They must put themselves in the place of older people, simulating disabilities if need be, and testing their designs with older users.

Simplicity of design is the key to creating products that can be easily used by those who may not be familiar with technology. Designers must also bear in mind the need to keep costs as low as possible.

Developments are in the pipeline which could make life easier for many seniors.

Sympathetically designed care robots will augment human carers and provide round the clock attention for housebound older people. Driverless cars will keep others mobile for much longer, enabling older people to live more independent lives.

The widespread use of telecare systems to monitor and raise alarms will enable many more older people to live at home and lower the cost of their care.

At the same time all of these innovations must be carefully designed to avoid depersonalising and isolating the vulnerable people who use them.

John Lamb