Designs on the future: Linking front line at service delivery with product design

Long, S., Timmins, B., Deegan, A. and Brosnan, J. (2009) Designs on the future: Linking front line at service delivery with product design. In: Assistive Technology Research Series.


Enable Ireland's National Assistive Technology Training Service develops and delivers a range of training programmes targeting adult AT users, therapists, tutors, families, educators and employers. It also provides local AT Assessment support with a view to skilling up front line teams working directly with AT end users. A key challenge facing all AT users and their support teams is the sourcing of appropriate AT solutions to meet their evolving needs, at home, for communication, in education, in employment or for leisure purposes. Having developed a certified AT training course in partnership with the Dublin Institute of Technology in 2002, from which there are now over 160 graduates working in a range of AT service delivery roles nationally, Enable Ireland's National AT Training Service was asked to contribute to the content of an AT module designed by DIT's School of Engineering, targeting final year students of their degree programme in Product Design. The emphasis of this Product Design module was on the principles of Universal Design and how they can impact on AT design. The form of this collaborative AT module consisted of on-site visits to the AT Training Service where students were given an AT overview, hands on time with a range of electronic assistive technologies, and the opportunity to hear from AT end users about the strengths and failings of currently available AT products, from a design perspective. Product design students then undertook an AT Product Design project and were evaluated by a team of three assessors, who included a front line service provider, an academic tutor and an expert AT user. Corporate sponsorship facilitated the commendation of 5 students annually, in recognition of their achievements in the areas of: innovation; use of mainstream solutions; multi-purpose application of design concept and other criteria. During the second year of this initiative, one Product Design graduate was funded to bring his design concept, a voice output communication device targeting efficient exchange of social conversation, and accessible via switch and/or other access methods, to prototype stage. This paper will outline the steps necessary to bring this innovative collaboration to fruition, the role of AT users in defining the direction of the product design concepts, as well as the pedagogical principles which informed the development of course content. It will focus on the importance of user involvement at the core of the programme, as well as on the insights provided by the expert AT user during the projects evaluation phase. It will also address the benefits of public/private partnership as a method of promoting innovation in third level education, the role that mainstream media can play in promoting this mainstream message and will explore possible options to advance this type of partnership activity between the Health and Education sectors further. At a time when the questions of AT accreditation and of Design For All are central to the mainstreaming of Assistive Technology (with a view to reaching the widest possible audience, using cost effective means), this collaborative model offers some insights into some of the challenges facing service delivery agencies and academics, as well as some of the solutions which may enhance access to AT for all who need it. © 2009 The authors and IOS Press. All rights reserved.

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