Arming consumers to navigate a world of choice in assistive technology

Empowering consumers and allied health professionals with comprehensive information about assistive technology is critical for delivering appropriate, sustainable and cost-effective solutions.

Empowering consumers and allied health professionals with comprehensive information about assistive technology is critical for delivering appropriate, sustainable and cost-effective solutions, Linda Belardi and Natasha Egan report.

Ensuring access to independent, quality information on assistive technology (AT) is essential as consumers increasingly become more involved in making choices about aids and equipment, says Susan Fleming from the Independent Living Centre in Victoria.

Susan Fleming
Susan Fleming

Ms Fleming said selecting the most functionally suitable AT is not only more likely to help a person achieve their goals, but research indicates it will also reduce the likelihood of abandoning the AT device later on.

Allied health professionals who are well informed are also more able to provide a professional and ethical service to their clients, she said.

What do we mean by AT?

Fleming said assistive technology refers to a whole range of devices that assist an older person or person with disability to perform a task they would otherwise be unable to do, or to increase the ease and safety with which a task can be performed. AT also supports people to carry out daily activities.

“AT can be as simple as something that makes tasks in the home easier, such as a device to open a jar, to highly technical mobility equipment such as a powered wheelchair fitted with Bluetooth that can control a person’s environment and operate their tablet computer,” she said.

Ms Fleming said the introduction of consumer directed care in community aged care and the gradual rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme means consumers are being given greater choice and control, not only over the services they receive, but also over equipment that will help them.

“It’s great if people have more responsibility and more choice. But it can also be a bit overwhelming for people.

“It that context, it is really important that consumers and their families, carers and advocates have access to information that is comprehensive, accurate and impartial.”

In the global marketplace there are many sources of information about AT, including from suppliers, manufacturers, sales people, online forums and allied health providers, some of whom may have a vested interest in influencing a consumer’s choice, she said.

Part of the role of Independent Living Centres (ILCs) around Australia is to fill that need for independent, impartial information to ensure technology choices are made that are suited to a person’s needs.

The centres do not sell equipment, but provide retailer details through a national equipment database.

Communication and assistive technology can also be viewed and trialled at the ILCs and therapists are available to provide information and advice to ensure consumers make informed choices.

The ILCs work collaboratively to share evidence on the application of AT with the aim of optimising outcomes in the community.

In Victoria, the ILC is a service of disability provider Yooralla.

Ms Fleming said quality information empowers consumers by ensuring that the technology selected matches a person’s needs and is fit for purpose.

“One of the main outcomes of choosing unsuitable equipment is abandonment. People end up buying things and then don’t use them. This can even be the case with prescribed items. Some research has shown that more than 50 per cent of prescribed items end up being abandoned, which is a horrendous cost wastage.”

If consumers and allied health professionals are well informed it reduces costs and creates a more sustainable system for AT, she said.

It also avoids possible injuries or negative clinical outcomes if unsuitable equipment is purchased.

For more information on the network of Independent Living Centres located around Australia call the national ILC infoline 1300 885 886 or visit their website.

Susan Fleming is presenting on ‘The importance of providing comprehensive quality information to consumers about assistive technology’ today as part of the ATSA Independent Living Expo’s clinical program.

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Tags: assistive-technology, disability, independent-living-centre, susan-fleming,

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