Opinion Technology

Removing barriers, enabling communications

Dougal Hawes, Managing Director, Smartbox Assistive Technology

Smartbox leads the way in creating assistive technology that enables disabled people to have a voice and live more independently. Our software and devices for alternative communication support a wide range of conditions and literacy levels, supporting children and adults across the world to communicate with symbols and text, control their environment, access social media, browse the internet and much more.

As a company our goal is to remove barriers and enable disabled people to communicate their wants and needs, stay connected to friends and family and to fully participate in society. In 2020 we became part of the CareTech group of companies, which openedup opportunities to explore how our technology can better support people in the social care sector.

We were aware that there are many people in special education and social care settings that didn’t have access to the technology they needed, and we wanted to see how we could make a difference. How could we make this technology accessible to them?

This is how the 100 Voices project started. In partnership with CareTech PLC, we took our technology to 100 disabled children and adults in CareTech services.

This project enabled us to showcase the true potential of the individuals involved and gather valuable feedback. What it really demonstrates is that person centred care can do much more than it currently does. CareTech PLC is a pioneer in recognising assistive technology holds the key to this, and that it can enable individuals to achieve the things they want to. For people like Nkeesha (pictured), using eye gaze technology means her cerebral palsy doesn’t prevent her from being able to interact with her device and quickly compose messages.

That’s what person centred really looks like; one size fits one. Getting a communication aid is not like receiving a new phone or tablet. Everyone has a unique solution; the only way you can make it work is to consider individual needs and circumstances, which in turn enables them to become more independent through communication.

Smartbox user Lucia shared what this means to her in her own words: “I can write 100 words an hour. For me, this is absolutely great! Writing is the way I communicate. It’s what feels natural to me. For some people using alternative communication, the voice part is really important. For me, it’s being able to type my messages for people to read on my screen.” Such a powerful testimonial from someone who has never had a voice! When you read feedback like this or see a child tell their parents they love them for the first time, that’s hope and potential all rolled into one, which is why we will never stop innovating.

Smartbox is also committed to working with young people. Most recently, we supported CareTech Foundation in hosting 20 young people through the partnership with EY Foundation’s Smart Futures programme. These 16-19 year olds were asked to come up with a business strategy for our Symoji project and they blew us away! My colleagues and I have also mentored them over 10-months, an equally rewarding experience for all of us.

The future is bright for Smartbox. With ground-breaking projects like 100 Voices we are creating an infrastructure we’d like to build on. We want to help transform the social care industry. It is a big and exciting challenge, but we know the value of the impact cannot be ignored. Reduction in frustration, the clarity of saying what you are thinking, the relief for a carer knowing they are delivering exactly what that person needs.

As Managing Director I can confidently say that we are proud to be part of the CareTech group of companies, partnering with organisations that are adopting technologies for alternative communication and independence into their services and placing them at the heart of social care.



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