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If you are starting to investigate the most suitable assistive technology for a family member you may quickly realise the plethora of options which are commercially available.  Up until recently families have generally worked together with occupational therapists, speech pathologists and assistive technology specialists to evaluate the assistive technology most suited to an individual.  This is still common practise and there are many services available to assist.  It is also common now that a larger number of families wish to be fully informed about the options available, to be able to select suitable assistive technology more independently.

So where do you start?

The starting point in researching suitable assistive technology for any child or adult, is to start by identifying the needs, requirements and preferences of the individual.  It is important, and ‘best practice’ to start with the person, rather than the products and equipment.  This is called “matching the person and technology”.  If someone already has a piece of equipment, such as a consumer tablet and this is provided to the individual, this is known as “the matching technology and person”.  There may be something to be learned from providing the equipment to a person without any consideration of their needs, requirements and preferences, however it is also important to avoid situations which may be unsuccessful, inappropriate or even distressing.  If we start with the "person" as the focus we can be sure to have a plan to introduce the most suitable equipment, step-by-step to ensure goals are met with success and satisfaction.  So how do we work out the needs, requirements and preferences of the individual?  Family members are often ideally placed to know these points as they are based on knowledge of the person in their day-to-day activities. 

The Person

There are a number of frameworks used in assistive technology assessment.  A useful framework for families may be a “needs assessment”.  This is a process of determining ‘gaps’ between the current status and the desired status.  The ‘need’ maybe to improve or compensate for current abilities.  It is important at this stage to avoid leaping to conclusions or possible solutions, as this may the limit the process and dismiss options ahead of time.  A practical version of a ‘needs assessment’ can be represented in a table as shown below.  In the left column list all the activities for the individual’s typical day, and then add other activities.  In the second column make notes summarising how the person manages this activity at present.  In the third column summarise any evident “gaps”.  This will provide an overview of the areas of ‘need’ which can be a useful starting point.  The limitation of this approach is that it does not include activities in which the person would like to participate but requires assistance, equipment, opportunity, more skills and so on.  It would be useful to think about these activities also as the use of assistive technology may enable increased opportunities and participation in a wider range of activities that the person cannot access at present. 

Here is a sample chart for an adult who has had a stroke (CVA):

Activity Current Gaps notes
Get up, shower, dress,breakfast, walk dog. Managing ok Safety in shower OT assessment booked
Read paper Finding reading more difficult Reading?  
Shopping for groceries etc Okay until needing to speak to someone or ask question Speech difficulties  
Ring daughter Okay with some common words, but difficulty with conversation Communication difficulties  
Bowls - social Difficult physically but enjoying social sontact. Embarrassed trying to converse. Now more of a listener. Communication difficulties  

Here is a sample for a teenager diagnosed with a developmental delay:

Activity Current Gaps notes
Get up, dress,breakfast, get ready for school  Increasing independence.   Remembering next step in some activities. Working on making own breakfast.  
Go to school by car Okay Planning on using school bus. Plan in place
Greetings at school Uses single message communicator.   Message may not be suitable at times.  
School time Has aide to assist with written work and to answer questions Others are using computer? More independent communication?   
Recess Relies on adults to assist with freindships Communication? Opportunity?   

These charts of notes can assist to highlight the goals and needs which can then be prioritised.  At this point it is probably useful to contact an Assistive Technology Services, Occupational Therapist or Speech Pathologist to discuss how Assistive Technology may be able to assist.  It is of course possible to continue with independent researching of strategies and products to meet needs in specific areas.  In the second example, a phone call to Zyteq could assist with a number of options to expand the communication from a single message.  This would typically lead on to considerations of the context and environments for communication and the supports available.  It is difficult to consider Assistive Technology in isolation as it requires the support of others for effective implementation and ongoing use.  

We are happy to discuss how Assistive Technology may be able to assist an individual, so please contact us for a chat.

If you would like to understand the evaluation process further, please go to another Zyteq Selection Guide "Are you new to Assistive Technology?"

The Zyteq Purchasing section on Funding and NDIS may also be relevant.

If you need more help please contact us.

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