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Innovate Trust is using mainstream technology to help promote digital inclusion and reduce loneliness this festive season

The holiday season can be a particularly lonely time for some vulnerable people in our society, especially for individuals with disabilities and those that live in remote areas. Innovate Trust has supported hundreds of people to access modern technology and give them opportunities to connect together.

A recent parliamentary review of health and social care in Wales has highlighted the need for social care in Wales to take a new approach and how the systems in Wales “need revolution”.

One example of this revolution for social care in Wales is the work of Innovate Trust, a supported living charity operating in South East Wales. Innovate Trust supports over 274 people to live in their own homes and in late 2016 launched a new pilot project to explore how mainstream, readily available and affordable technology, like smart speakers and smart home devices could be integrated into supported living to improve the lives of people with disabilities, enabling them to have more independence, dignity and control.

Since the initial success of this six month research project, the charity has received funding to roll out the project to a further 197 people with various learning disabilities, physical impairments and mental health conditions. Innovate Trust hopes that its work in this area will lead others involved in delivering social care to think proactively about how they can use technology to its maximum benefit. To support this work, gather evidence and raise awareness the charity has established a research partnership with Cardiff University’s school of Psychology to research and evaluate the impact of the devices on individual’s level of wellbeing and independence.

The devices, such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home, are easy to use, affordable (compared to traditional assistive technology) and the charities research has highlighted many profound benefits for the people it supports. For example, one individual supported by the charity in Rhondda Cynon Taff discusses how she found the devices “easy to learn to use” and that she now “sets reminders for me to take my meds” without needing to rely on staff. Another individual supported by the charity who is non-verbal and has mobility problems has a device which the staff use on her behalf to create a sensory experience and to provide her with entertainment when their hands are full supporting her to dress or eat her meals.

Commenting on the project, Ron Woods – Programme Director at Innovate Trust reflects on how the project echoes with the history of the charity and the wider social care sector. “It is really inspirational working on the project and seeing many of the same themes emerging for the charity and its use of mainstream technology. Especially in light of the barriers it faced when it was first established over 50 years ago.” Ron goes onto explain the history of the charity and how it was formerly known as Cardiff Universities Social Services, an independent charity set up by student volunteers in 1967. These volunteers later went on to open the UK’s first supported living home and campaigned heavily for the closure of many long stay institutions, where people with learning disabilities were forced to live their entire lives.

Innovate Trust recently teamed up with First Choice Housing Association to create the UK’s first lived-in, fully integrated Smart House to test the capabilities of this technology and further prove this concept for people with various disabilities in a natural scenario, rather than an in an assessment centre or show home. Although it is still early days this development is providing many positive results and the individuals living in the home are quickly adapting to the new set up.

Innovate Trust believes that technology has many benefits, and with some help and support, people can achieve their highest potential by learning new skills, being connected and keeping in touch with friends and family. Innovate Trust has provided training, one to one support and gifted devices to allow the people it supports to access modern technology to improve their wellbeing and independence.

Trying to change the model of social care and make improvements to quality of service provided is by no means an easy task; however the charity is being faithful to its roots by changing practices and living up to its name; Innovate Trust.

Innovate Trust logo

Innovate Trust provides support and guidance to over 274 disabled people in South East Wales. Our main work is supporting people with learning disabilities to live in their own home, but we also support individuals with mental health issues and people with physical impairments. In addition we provide support to the elderly, young, disadvantaged and vulnerable members of the local community through our Student Volunteering projects. Innovate Trust was established 50 years ago by volunteers and in 1974 the charity was the first to set up a supported living home in the UK.