Smart technology for children with functional disabilities
Various apps and tools can make the daily lives of children and youths easier and more enjoyable. However, researchers believe that more needs to be done in order for municipalities to offer these solutions.
Digital timetables and exercise mats, apps for sign language with the spoken word and Pokeman Go. These are examples of technologies that could make it easier for children and youths with functional disabilities to take part in leisure activities.
According to senior adviser at the Norwegian Centre for E-health Research, Undine Knarvik, these are cool and engaging technologies that facilitate participation.
In a new report, she and her colleagues looked at Norwegian municipalities and what they need to do in order to succeed with welfare technology for this group of children and youths.
Both play and communication
The Norwegian Directorate of Health and Directorate for E-health has introduced a new grant scheme for the testing of welfare technology for children and youths with functional disabilities. This is part of the Directorate of Health’s National Welfare Technology Programme.
The objective is to find and test commercially available welfare technologies, that enable children to take part in leisure activities.
The Norwegian Centre for E-Health Research cooperates with the two Directorates to increase knowledge within the field and have researched the testing of various welfare technologies.
Games and apps for language and communication were tested to see if they can stimulate social and physical activity, and improve interaction.
Three important prerequisites
“Many of the users will need multiple and comprehensive services from the public authorities throughout their lives. An earlier report from the same project showed that children and youths with functional disabilities have good digital skills,” says Knarvik.
The researchers emphasise three key prerequisites that will enable municipalities to make welfare technology a natural part of the daily lives of the users: mapping, willingness to change and entrenchment.
“The needs of people with functional disabilities vary. As such, each person’s needs must be mapped to find the right solution and to determine whether technology does in fact offer a solution,” explains Knarvik.
“Another important aspect is that municipalities must be willing to change. Using welfare technology requires a different mindset about municipal health and care services in terms of what they are and what they should be in the future,” says the senior adviser.
“Therefore, it is crucial that the changes and objectives are entrenched throughout the municipality; politically, administratively and professionally - from the municipal leaders at the top down to the employees of the services, especially the IT and operations service. By entrenchment, the researchers mean that the municipalities must not just agree to participate in projects; leaders must make a financial commitment and pay enough attention to the project."
Leaders must commit
Knarvik explains why the service must be managed from the top:
“Leaders are important agents of change in all organisations and must possess strong ownership to new services. Someone has to decide that this will be part of the municipality’s services and entrench it by incorporating it into the municipal plan, digitalisation strategy and budget. A project will never become a service without this,” she explains.
Municipalities are good at connecting activities to strategic plans. They also include them in development and innovation. However, many focus less on the costs that must also be included in the budgets.
New technologies and solutions lead to more confident children and youths, and give them more contact with peers, greater independence and better language skills. This was documented by the researchers in earlier reports from the same project.
“Municipal employees said different types of technology increased the interaction between users of the technology and the people around them. They believed they offered something that worked for the users, and that their efforts paid off,” says Knarvik.
The researchers also found a need for better cooperation between units offering services to children. Leaders were particularly concerned that welfare technology should be coordinated between several government agencies.
Who’s responsible for the technology?
One of the problems the municipalities pointed out was the need for delimitation of boundaries. Which welfare technologies should be defined as essential medical help and which are consumer technology that users must provide themselves?
“The boundary surrounding municipal responsibility is still unclear, and with regard to technology-based assistive devices, more transparent coordination between the municipalities and NAV is still needed,” says Knarvik.
“More reports and research-based knowledge are clearly needed, especially to find out how welfare technology can result in better services, whilst taking into consideration the rights of users, ethics, data protection, finances, competence and so on,” she says.
Rotvold, G.H and Knarvik, U.: Innføring av velferdsteknologi for barn og unge med funksjonsnedsettelser [Introduction of Welfare Technology for Children and Youths with Reduced Functional Ability]. Report from the Norwegian Centre for E-health Research. (2018) [pdf.]