Tech industry collaboration with not-for-profit sector improves landscape for assistive technology users | Enable Ireland

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Tech industry collaboration with not-for-profit sector improves landscape for assistive technology users

Sight and Sound Technology Ireland, the leading provider of AT in Ireland, will partner with not-for-profit body FreedomTech for the next three years, in a venture that will improve the assistive technology (AT) landscape for people with disabilities. The collaboration will provide a sustainable platform for people to share and learn from each other in an area that can otherwise be disjointed and complex to navigate. 

Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, TD, today welcomed the partnership, which will help to create a level-playing field for students with disabilities and ensure their success in higher education and beyond. “Peer support and the sharing of knowledge and experiences is vital for students, and particularly so for students with disabilities. Assistive technology is a key tool for success in education and employment and we must make it easier for people with disabilities to access it and have continued support along the way. Providing opportunities for people using assistive technology, and indeed those working in the area, to get together to share and learn in this way is the right thing to do and having a partner in the technology industry now makes it viable, so I’m very pleased to see the commitment from FreedomTech and Sight and Sound Technology Ireland here today.”  

According to Joan O’Donnell, FreedomTech Project Manager, assistive technology can transform the life of a person with a disability. “AT allows someone with sight loss to learn successfully alongside their sighted peers by converting standard print to large print, audio or Braille, or provides reading support tools for students with dyslexia, for example. However, for assistive technology to have this positive impact, a coherent approach to how people access it and the support they receive in choosing and using the right piece of technology for their stage in life is needed.”

The lack of consistency in access to AT has resulted in gaps in the understanding and take-up of assistive technology. In fact, only one in 10 people who require AT have access to it.   As a result, FreedomTech created CHAT (Community Hub for Accessible Technology) - a 200-strong user-focused space where people can learn from each other and identify gaps and challenges in assistive technology. CHAT allows not only end users to learn about AT, but also developers, academics, therapists, service providers and healthcare professionals.
FreedomTech and CHAT have been supported by Enable Ireland and the Disability Federation of Ireland to date but the partnership with Sight and Sound Technology Ireland puts the organisation on a more sustainable footing and allows it to continue to work towards effective AT services, as well as to provide greater opportunities for users and potential users. 

The collaboration also enables users to influence industry, as noted by Sight and Sound Technology Ireland’s Business Development Manager, Stuart Lawler. “The right piece of assistive technology can have a hugely positive impact on an individual but as life changes, so does the way in which technology is used, so we pride ourselves on being able to respond proactively to these changing circumstances and in being there to provide lifelong support. We’re excited to partner with FreedomTech and the CHAT community to better understand the needs of Irish assistive technology users and to ultimately streamline the experience of assistive technology users and make their lives and choices significantly simpler.”

•    FreedomTech is a collaboration between the Disability Federation of Ireland and Enable Ireland. 
•    FreedomTech believes that a well-funded and supported Assistive Technology ecosystem makes economic sense in the long term, repaying initial investment over only a few years.
•    CHAT was established in 2015 with a dozen participants and has grown to and has over 200 participants. This includes people with disabilities (expert and non-expert AT users), AT practitioners, researchers, educators, service providers, developers, suppliers and other interested parties.
•    CHAT aims to raise the profile of assistive technology in Ireland and helps to raise awareness about the barriers that currently exist (inaccessibility) and facilitates the sharing of new assistive technology solutions or projects to the community. 
•    Sight and Sound has been a leading provider of assistive technology in the UK and Ireland for 40 years and opened its Irish office in September 2018, giving Irish AT users access to local knowledge and expertise on various technologies. 
For further information contact Fionnuala Murphy, Sight and Sound on 087 4116925 or email fionnuala.murphy@sightandsoundtechnology.ie