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Switching on to assistive technology

4 December 2012

For people with high-level spinal cord injuries and paralysis, seemingly everyday tasks like turning on a light, changing the TV channel or making a phone call become a challenge.

Assistive technologies can help people with limited movement to control appliances in their environment. But which technologies do people really need, what is it like to use them and what kind of impact can they have?

With the support of the HRB, Dr Michèle Verdonck looked at the issues with users in Ireland. For her PhD at University College Cork she worked with focus groups of people with high-level spinal injuries and developed a ?generic electronic assistive technology pack? (GrEAT). It contained commercially available equipment such as switches and mounts as well as instructions for users and their carers. ?People wanted it to be simple and reliable, no bells and whistles,? says Dr Verdonck, who is a senior occupational therapist at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dublin.

Six people with spinal injury used the GrEAT pack over the course of eight weeks and Dr Verdonck interviewed them and documented their experiences.

?Getting used to using environmental controls was a major issue but once they got used to it, they found the technology let them take back a little of what was lost,? she says. ?They start to become engaged with the technology and they talked about getting back to doing the everyday things we take for granted, like watching a DVD or making a phone call. They also talked about fun, like turning on a light when your parent didn?t know you could do it. They were surprised that the technology worked, that it suited them and they were surprised that they got used to it, and they all found it was better to have had the experience than not to.?

Outcomes

  • Developed a cost-efficient generic environmental control technology pack to suit people with limited physical movement.
  • Demonstrated that relatively small starter packs for environmental control improve lives of people with spinal injury in an Irish setting.

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