Assistive technology potential

With the constant advances in assistive technology, help providing the tools to build confidence, ease social situations and support people with disabilities in leading independent lives, is improving.

According to research, over 1.5 million people in the UK have a learning difficulty. This means that adults and children who have a learning disability, which may also be combined with a physical disability, often find it difficult to communicate with others and can take longer to develop or learn new skills.

Artificial intelligence or AI is basically machine learning which demonstrates at least some of the behaviours associated with humans such as planning, reasoning, learning and problem-solving.

There are a few examples of Artificial Intelligence (AI) being used to support people with learning difficulties, but the potential is great for those with more than one condition or diagnosis. AI can adapt to user’s needs, personalise experiences, adapt to their pace and explain things in more appropriate and accessible terms. And the direct feedback available from AI gives other people – for example family members or carers – clearer insight into what works best.

An example of this is how Virtual Reality (VR) can enable people with learning difficulties learn and practice social skills and behaviours in a secure virtual environment. In fact, MenCap have used VR to help people with disabilities to prepare for, and manage, the experience of going to a polling station. Through VR, inclusivity and accessibility can be promoted.

Though the Internet of Things (IoT) is as yet still in its relative infancy, it has enhanced assistive technology considerably – from shoes that vibrate in certain places to help those with visual impairment, to hearing aids paired with smoke detectors and baby alarms to alert the user – it has huge potential to significantly increase people’s ability to move independently.

As the technology matures – at an ever-increasing pace – the support available to individuals will increase to the benefit and understanding of everyone.