- Poor initial assessment (or lack of assessment) of needs
- Poor choice in selection and acquisition in equipment, software, device or suite of technologies
- Incompatibility issues not researched or considered
- Inadequate, inaccurate or inappropriate technology prescription or advice
- Equipment or devices that are either too basic or too complex in design or function
- Equipment or devices that cannot be adequately supported – training and/or technical support
- Technology that is installed, configured or set up poorly or incorrectly
- The time taken to fully implement the technology
- The person or team supporting the technology leaves or abandons the client or project
- Equipment that is expensive to maintain, repair or support
- Software that is too basic, inadequately caters to needs or is obtuse or overly complex
What is the ‘Gentle Technology Approach’?
The Gentle Technology Approach, to my knowledge, is a new term. I will use it to describe ‘a process whereby any introduction of new or enhanced assistive technology, including hardware, software, Apps or devices is implemented in a gradual, structured process. It should cater accurately to and realistically meet an individual’s needs for a determined period of time, with care, empathy and appropriate technical support and training.’ [Gerry Kennedy (c) September 2012]
This refers to a more gentle approach used by everyone concerned with the client. It needs to be a carefully considered and planned approach, taking into account the client’s needs, over time, without removing any legacy systems that they have used successfully.
Every person is different. Every situation is different. The most appropriate technology may cost nothing and be freely sourced or it may cost a significant amount. Funding may have to be realised and secured. Cost should not be the predominant factor. Meeting needs and customising solutions is key.
The much lauded SETT Framework, designed by Joy Zabala, is a very useful, practical and cutting edge framework to assist a team identifying the most appropriate set of tools.
Definition: ‘The SETT is an acronym for Student, Environments, Tasks, and Tools. Although the letters form a memorable word, they are not intended to imply an order, other than that the student, environments, and tasks should be fully explored before tools are considered or selected. Some people have tried to explore the first three separately and in order, however, that is nearly impossible because the first three are closely linked.’ [Source: http://www.joyzabala.com/Home.php ] A series of SETT Framework Documents are available from the site.
Context and Leading Practice
Any new technology may adhere to three areas of consideration – Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology Services (QIAT), accommodate Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles and be supported and anchored by Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM).
The most effective implementation is where the client (adult, worker, client or student) has a support team. This team may comprise of two or more people. This may include:
- Family members
- Co-workers, friends or advocates
- Paraprofessionals (e.g. Speech and Language Pathologists, Occupational or Physical Therapists etc)
- Educators, Support Staff, aides or assistants
- Tutors, mentors, coaches or ‘IT Buddies’
- Liaison officers or student service staff
- Human resource managers or advisors
- IT Consultants, advisors, technicians or engineers
- Care workers, social workers or other support workers
Having a team approach allows the person to have ongoing, timely, local support, with people to assist, guide, mentor, train or follow up on important and critical issues, appointments, training regimes or assessments. The team needs to document the process and meet regularly and set goals, objectives and aims with clearly designated roles and responsibilities with realistic and achievable time frames, allocated considerately to team members. Roles should reflect skills and capacities.
Most critically, the client, user or student must be involved, according to their capacity and understanding in how, when and where the inclusive technology can assist them.
Technology can range from ‘No Tech’ through to ‘High Tech’ solutions. Many users who lose cognitive and/or physical abilities, capacities, functionality and skills due to trauma, accidents or illness often are reticent to move from an established system or work regime. Previous experiences, skills, attitudes, religious beliefs and needs must be accounted for and documented so that any new technologies can compliment or add to a repertoire of skills and understandings that may be used as a foundation.
Age and gender differences are also critical as is the need for perceived advantage. Cognitive capacity should be accounted for as well as conditions that may reflect variance in capacities. Clients with intellectual disabilities, behavioural differences as well as those with social disadvantage need to be carefully considered.
It is no use moving from a working technology that is appropriate and successful to one that is very complex or overwhelming. The graduation and transition from one technology to another takes experience, skills, expertise and understanding by one or more people overseeing the project or process. In some instances, a client may prove to be a ‘natural’ and may cope more than adequately.
Some support workers embrace technology quickly and learn and master a system well, whilst others struggle and become frustrated and disillusioned. They may compromise the success in the implementation process if not adequately guided, supported and trained. Identifying and acting in a timely manner may alleviate and solve problems and avoid issues that can aggravate a situation where the technology may stall or be dismissed.
In my experience, members of the support team can compromise the process as they feel and believe that they have to master the technology first. Time to test, trial and experiment and play is very important. Taking too long to initiate and start using it in order to realise any useful capacity or advantage, may disrupt and negate any benefits.
Technology moves rapidly and issues of cost, availability, supply, training, local IT support or technical expertise and maintenance are important considerations in the implementation phase. Devices, hardware, software and more recently Apps, can become obsolete very quickly. Cost usually decreases, as does the size, though. An interesting phenomenon is that portable technologies have replaced static, cumbersome, heavy and inflexible technology. People are more mobile and demand systems are unobtrusive, transparent and are ‘mainstream’ in appearance and function.
Advising clients to uses systems or devices that are already outdated, underpowered or lack redundant capabilities can cost time and money. The most critical factor is the lack of opportunity. The time spent learning and mastering an inappropriate system means that the person may have potentially missed out on having the technology that would have helped progress independence and greater autonomy. The better proscribed technology may realise work or training opportunities, advanced education or assist in making them more capable, confident or employable.
In other instances, where poor implementation occurs, it is evidenced in clients or students disregarding help, guidance or attempts to assist them. They may also sabotage the system, damage, misuse, misplace or compromise its use. Or they may opt to refuse to engage with it, partially or wholly. This may eventuate in them refusing or negating any future Inclusive or Assistive Technology support, in the short or long term.
Some examples of ensuring where the Gentle Technology approach may be required could include:
- Transitioning from a paper based diary to a computer based Personal Information Management System (PIM)
- Text entry and creation skills i.e. writing with a pen or pencil progressing to typing on a keyboard
- Changing modality in how data is entered e.g. using voice recognition systems rather than typing
- Introducing a new technology e.g. from a computer to a tablet or iPad device
- Changing a telephone from a basic model to a Smartphone one with multiple features, functions and Apps
- Working with a complex AAC device after communicating with a manual communication system
- Using a more complex productivity suite of software after working with a notepad application
Meeting Users’ Individual Needs
This approach of being ‘gentle’ with users and their newly acquired technology provides opportunities for them taking proactive ownership of the process. It may help to alleviate:
- Loss of ‘control’
- Frustration and anxiety
- Grieving in moving on from previous systems and methods
- Wasted time and opportunity working in isolation and not achieving goals
- Wasted resources
- Missed opportunities in using the most appropriate ICTs
- Compromise funding for any updates, ongoing support or subsequent submissions
The Gentle Technology Approach is essentially a careful and deliberate consideration of needs. The client has rights. Dignity and self respect should not be compromised in any introduction of inclusive technology. Implementation needs to be fair, equitable and conducted with appropriate support in a timely manner.
A more gentle transition from one system to another will realise long term benefits and help to ensure that the enabling technology does just that – increase function, capacity and build skills and understandings. People of all abilities deserve to live, work and recreate and fulfil their dreams and aspirations.
These abilities need to be fostered and promoted, when a person has experienced a disadvantage impairment or disability. It is essentially about improving quality of life.
Families should be able to cope with the introduction of any new equipment, device, apparatus, system or device and play a constructive, active part in the rehabilitation or education of their loved one. The community will benefit as people can be productive and continue to function to the best of their abilities.
It is an ongoing process and not a ‘one off’ situation or scenario. It has never been and never will be a case of ‘one size fits all’. Every person has individual needs that are specific to them, and they may change over time. Technology should afford opportunity and cater accurately and elegantly to meet their needs without compromising legacy systems, disenfranchising the person or impacting negatively in any way, shape or form.
Footnote: The catalyst for this article and the identification of a Gentle Technology approach eventuated due to a meeting of interested people at a recent advisory meeting in Melbourne where Dr. Graeme Smith from Ability Technology encouraged the group to consider acting in a gentler manner when dealing with clients and assistive or mainstream technology.
This made me consider the importance of due consideration in sympathetically and realistically meeting people’s needs and the identification and articulation of an approach that may enhance assistive technology practice in education, training and rehabilitation. Any feedback or constructive opinions or comments will be very welcome.