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Assistive technologies and inclusion

The lives of people with disabilities can be shaped by assistive technologies (ATs). The European Technology Assessment Group (ETAG) led by ITAS studied the needs and perceptions that people with disabilities have on ATs.
Assistive technologies (ATs) for inclusion at work
In order to inform about the availability of assistive products, an AT professional can work together with users, addressing their needs in a more personalized way. (Source: Youtube/MySTOA)

On behalf of the Scientific Foresight Unit (STOA) of the European Parliament ITAS scientists as well as scientists from Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (ISI), Institute of Technology Assessment of ÖAW (ITA) and RT Paris studied the political framework on ATs in selected European countries and the needs and perceptions that people with disabilities have on ATs. They focussed on the impact that various ATs can have on people with blindness and visual impairment, deafness and hearing impairment and autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The project “Assistive technologies for the inclusion of people with disabilities in society, education and jobs” showed that the perceptions and needs on ATs vary according to the type of disability. For people with blindness and visual impairment these needs concern haptic (Braille, canes, keyboard) and information / communication support, whereas for people with deafness or hearing impairment the needs are in alarm systems, hearing aids and communication supporting technologies. In ASD, ATs should provide support in communication, social skills and daily-life activities.

This variety does not only affect concrete technological solutions and fields of applications but also specific measures for a more effective use of devices. Furthermore, the labelling of ATs as medical or mainstream device is still contested. This has consequences in terms of the perceived ‘value’ of a device and as well in terms of regulative measures and accessibility to them.

Political framework and future research

The study showed that people with disabilities have an open and optimistic attitude towards new and emerging technologies. However, future research should not only focus on the technical development as such, but rather on a sound implementation, social embedding and evaluation of technological solutions which already exist.  More importantly, the study revealed prevailing negative attitudes towards “disability” still are the major barriers in several social domains. Thus, a big focus should be given in raising awareness and knowledge towards a more friendly and accessible environment (physically and socially), in order to foster full participation and inclusiveness of people with disabilities in society.

This could be achieved by implementing a specific training for people without disabilities in the field of education, health-related professions, public services and web accessibility to better understand the needs of people with disabilities, also in order to mitigate stigmatization and promote acceptance. (19.03.2018)

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