Improving the quality of information and ready supply of assistive technologies (AT) in Australia is critical to realising the potential of AT in the lives of older people and people with disability, says Dr Natasha Layton, an occupational therapist and board member of the Australian Rehabilitation and Assistive Technology Association.
Speaking to Community Care Review ahead of her presentation to the ATSA Independent Living Expo in Melbourne next month, Dr Layton said Australia currently imported only a proportion of AT devices available on the international market, and even fewer were available through state equipment funding schemes.
In some cases entire product categories – such as powered mobility aids and containment beds – were not as yet available in Australia.
Dr Layton, who represents Standards Australia to the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) regarding the classification and terminology of AT products for people with a disability, evaluated data from Rehacare, an international trade show with over 800 AT exhibitors, to identify what was missing from the domestic scene in Australia.
She said that the need for an Australian sponsor for import, and freight and compliance costs, could act as barriers to the import of AT in Australia.
“Given the importance of AT supply there is a case to be made for a more systematic evaluation of AT imports to Australia,” Dr Layton told CCR.
Ms Layton said there was a need for improved data collection on the use of AT and outcomes to inform and direct government and other stakeholders about how to fill gaps in local supply.
“Participation is possible for everyone with the right supports, and one of the most effective interventions we have is the introduction of AT,” she said.
“As an occupational therapist I know the right AT solution can enable people living with disability or the effects of ageing to reach their goals.”
However, she said choice for consumers was diminished if there was limited supply of AT devices on the market.
While the growth of internet purchasing of AT is changing how assistive technologies reach users, Ms Layton said issues remained around appropriate assessment, fit and customisation of the product to the individual, which were critical to take up and use.
Mobility products such as walking frames with powered features, beds adapted for use for people with dementia and movement disorders, and devices supporting participation in sports such as horse riding and cycling were some of the new areas of innovation in the international AT market.
There was also a trend towards multifunctional products, which blend device categories such as bicycle designs incorporating the features of wheelchair seating, she said. The expansion of accessible travel options including holiday tours and motorhomes were also hitting the market.
ATSA Independent Living Expo will be held at Melbourne Showground 18 – 19 May.
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