Improving social inclusion through assistive technology

David Hursthouse

David Hursthouse, Assistive Technology Project Manager, updates us on the impact of technology at Hill House.

Technology is such an essential element of everyone’s lives. We’re living in a world that is becoming more and more reliant on digital platforms. And throughout the pandemic, many would say we’ve been more connected than ever. This connectivity is especially important for the people we support, even before the pandemic. 

At Hill House in Cheshire, we’re working on a fascinating project. Over three years we’re bringing new life changing technologies to residents. We’ll be introducing both specialist and commercially available accessible technology. Some of it you’d even find in your own home.

But in a social care setting, the technology will be used to improve the interaction between the residents and staff. And with each other too! This will not only transform the ‘care experience’ but enhance social inclusion opportunities at Hill House as well.

What our project is about

For some residents, verbal communication can be a barrier. We’re installing state-of-the-art augmentative and alternative communication devices to give those residents a voice. There is no other project like it at the moment. 

Staff at Hill House are on board to help residents get the most out of the new technology. We’ve also recruited new team members who will be essential to the project. Our Speech and Language Therapist will support some of our residents as they develop a new way of speaking through Grid 3 Smartbox. Grid 3 is a communications tool that helps people share their voice, control the environment and live more independent lives. This is through a range of control options like touch, eye gaze and pointing. 

We also have a new Occupational Therapist. Her role will be making sure we adapt any equipment and technology to each individual’s needs. This person-centred approach means each resident will be able to get the most out of the technology. 

Why this project has been vital during lockdown

For me, one of the most critical parts of this project is improving social interaction opportunities. This has become paramount as we navigate through lockdown. Particularly as visits from family and friends have had to be taken online.

Disabled people can often feel isolated and lonely. So, we want to use technology to help change this, long after the pandemic is over. The technology at Hill House will work to improve contact time between residents and their loved ones. And maybe even help enhance those relationships too. 

Lockdown has undoubtedly presented the project team with some challenges. But we’ve been doing what we can to introduce the residents to new technology. This includes a virtual audiobook club. We’ve been working with a company called Calibre on a trial of this project. Residents taking part listen to the chosen book and then join a group chat to share their thoughts. It’s going really well so far.

We’re hoping to open up the club to other Leonard Cheshire residents in different services too via video conference. Some residents have also had fun with VR Headsets. Staff at Hill House have been using the headsets to take residents on virtual tours of destinations far and wide. Some have had tours of English stately homes. Others have gone literally out of this world to the international space station! 

This is only the beginning

Our Clevertouch Unit, an interactive display, has also been a great addition. It’s allowed us to have some great games and film nights together. One resident, Mark, made particular use of the Clevertouch Unit to pay homage to his favourite football team. He had a brilliant time watching the ‘We are Liverpool, Champions of England’ video on the unit. He even filled Hill House with sounds of the team’s anthem ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’! 

These assistive technology devices have helped improve the social wellbeing of our residents during a very testing time. And we’ve got plenty more exciting plans in the pipeline. I’m looking forward to seeing how our residents benefit from technology over the next three years.