AbilityNet – the Midlands-based, national computing and disability charity – has been successfully piloting a new remote assessment service for severely disabled clients in their own homes since January 2006.
The charity has now launched the service at Westminster, where it is being offered to employers, schools and colleges as well as the public and voluntary sectors.
Nowadays, work, educational and public access facilities all have the broadband connection required for remote streaming – enabling a computer to be remotely accessed and adjusted through the internet. With a low cost web camera it is also possible for the assessor to identify physical access issues and recommend adaptive solutions.
AbilityNet is supporting this service with a bank of assistive hardware and software available on short-term loan which will hugely reduce the risk of buying the wrong solution.
Personal visits will still be needed where firewalls and stringent security prevent the use of online streaming.
However, AbilityNet says that for many organisations – where cost is a significant barrier – the remote assessment process offers a flexible and more cost effective option.
It can be charged by the hour, saves the time and cost of travelling and reduces waiting times. Clients can also book several short sessions with their remote assessor – often a better solution than a single visit.
"By piloting this service with clients who have complex and severe disabilities, we were pushing it to the limit,’ says David Banes, AbilityNet’s director of operations.
"It has been extremely well received and we believe that it provides a useful solution for any organisation seeking to support its disabled IT users, whatever their disability,’ he added.
AbilityNet said that more than 100 people were assessed in the pilot and it had been a very positive experience for all concerned.
Another significant benefit in non-home environments such as the workplace or educational establishment, is that experienced AbilityNet staff can transfer skills and learning to other professionals involved during the assessment process.
The pilot shows that when disabled clients are talked through new software with a note-taker, they have the confidence to get to know and use new applications in their own time after the assessment.
Matching the right technologies to the individual is vital – as without it people struggle and often give up.
As an AbilityNet remote assessment client with Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), who has now returned to part-time work, confirms: "I struggled for five years, I didn’t use a PC at all, or work. I couldn’t. I couldn’t see a way back into work either, it really got me down. I just couldn’t see a way back into normal life."
A remote assessment usually takes a little under two hours, so in launching this new service AbilityNet hopes to treble the numbers of clients assessed while providing a more streamlined service.
In 2005 AbilityNet supplied free advice and information to some 280,000 enquiries through its national freephone and web-based services.
In addition, the charity's consultants saw nearly 3,000 disabled children and adults face-to-face for individual assessments, equipment, training sessions and home support visits.