The possibilities of advanced assistive tech

Steve Tyler

Recently, we partnered with the Hay Festival to present a talk between Stephen Fry and Peter Scott-Morgan, who describes himself as the world’s first genuine cyborg. Steve Tyler looks at what these advancements in technology could mean for disabled people.

Chris testing out a VR headset at Hill House

Peter 2.0, as he calls himself, was born following a diagnosis of Motor Neurone Disease.

Peter used his knowledge of AI and emerging technology to not only survive but thrive. He embraces his second phase of existence as ‘Human 2.0’.  He communicates using pre-recorded clips of his own voice and an on-screen avatar, all controlled by his eye movements. Stephen Hawking used a simpler version of this software.

Peter’s approach might sound unique and experimental, but it is not too far from what is being done now. Technology already helps disabled people communicate and enjoy an improved quality of life.

Our work at Hill House

This is undoubtedly true at Leonard Cheshire. We use communication technology to help disabled people gain independence. This has proven particularly helpful for people with dexterity issues, sensory difficulties, and speech challenges. 

In our Hill House service, we have used Grid 3 Smartboxes to enable non-verbal residents to communicate. The results have been striking, if not transformative. These devices allow users to choose numbers, phrases and letters by pressing a button, pointing or eye-gazing. In other words, the devices will enable them to speak. Residents can express their wants and needs clearly.

Socialisation moved online during this pandemic, as we couldn’t travel to see friends and family.  This led to online clubs, zoom parties and virtual quizzes. These were accessible so that everyone could have fun together, including people with disabilities. Our online audio-book clubs and film nights let disabled people socialise remotely. In some of our care homes, residents have used the Clevertouch interactive 55inch pc to access these events. Service users can improve their social lives and relationships by using these technologies. 

What does this mean for the future?

Peter Scott-Morgan is going to continue to push the limitations of technology. He plans to create a live projected avatar and personalised communicative AI software. Peter wants to revolutionise the response to conditions like his own.
We know this seems like frontier science, but that is not the case. At its heart, Peter’s work is about using technology to enable people. In care homes, this approach is currently making a huge difference.

As the power of tech grows, so will the ways it can grant accessibility. By integrating technology and humanity, everyone, disabled or not, will be more able to engage with the wider world. 

With new technology, every part of life could be completely accessible one day; almost every barrier could be overcome. It might not be an exaggeration to say that, like Peter, we are looking at Life 2.0.