We all know how transformative technology can be, and the freedom that comes from having access to the internet in our pockets along with so many apps that make our lives easier on a day to day basis. For people with disabilies and older people, the benefits are multiplied. As our lives become more intertwined with technology, the potential benefit to people with disabilites also multiplies. Accessible Technology includes mainstream apps that support navigation, personal organisation and act as memory aids. Assistive Technology includes specialised visual aids, computer software and hardware that increase mobility, hearing, vision, or communication or offer environmental controls including remote control of doors, windows and lights.
It’s importance cannot be underestimated. According to the World Health Organisation, AT maintains or improves people’s functioning, independence and sense of wellbeing. That’s why FreedomTech is more than just a state of mind, it is a way of bringing forth a new world and a new way of being and accessing life for people with disabilities and older people in Ireland. Because, we believe everyone with a disability or disabling condition should have access to affordable and up to date Assistive Technology (AT) so that they can live independently, access education, work, and be active members of their community.
Ireland does not yet have a coherent AT policy that works across education, work, and day to day living and FreedomTech set out back in 2014 to change that reality.
We are a collaboration between the Disability Federation of Ireland (DFI) and Enable Ireland. Whilst DFI has a background in policy and a membership of over 120 disability organisations, Enable Ireland has a rich expertise in the management and delivery of services for people with disabilities, including being a thought leader around technology.
We knew from the start that getting Assistive Technology on the policy making agenda would be a long haul. And we knew that technology was, and still is changing faster than any of us could keep up with. So we did two things:
- We started convening a community of practice, where people could meet and learn across organisational barriers
- we put our resources together to develop our ideas around what a coherent policy around AT should look like.
The community of practice soon became the Community Hub for Assistive Technology (CHAT) and the policy ask became the Discussion Paper which brought forth the idea of the AT Passport and an ecosystem of supports that could cut across all policy areas. We launched the discussion paper in 2016 and have continued to lobby for greater supports ever since. We held a conference in Aviva Stadium in 2017, where the ALL Institute within Maynooth University was launched.
We are a team of three: Joan project manages, Siobhan provides expertise in AT service development and delivery and Sarah curates CHAT. Together we believe that FreedomTech more than a state of mind: it is a collaboration between everyone who walks through the doors of a CHAT gathering – developers, makers, industry, services – but ultimately it is the right of every person with a disability who wants the freedom to get on with their lives and needs some Tech to do so.
FreedomTech receives no offical state funding and in 2019 Sight and Sound Technologies joined us as an industry partner.