Innovation for Inclusion

Assistive technologies for the inclusion of people with disabilities in society, education and employment

A key aim of the European Union is the development of an inclusive, reflective and innovative society. This aim also includes people with disabilities.

Video: Assistive Technologies

How can assistive technologies best meet the needs of the people who need and use them? An essential element of this project was to have this question answered directly by affected persons within the framework of a Europe-wide online survey. The experiences and wishes of people with disabilities have thus also been directly incorporated into the results and recommendations to decision-makers.

Introduction

Assistive technologies (ATs) - properly developed and applied - can make an important contribution to the inclusion of people with disabilities in society in general, in the education system and in the labour market. The aim of the project was to anticipate whether and how ATs could increase the inclusion of people with disabilities in Europe by 2050, but also to ask whether there are areas in which these technologies are unlikely to be conducive to inclusion. Relevant technical developments include future applications such as brain-computer interfaces, social robots or self-propelled cars as well as the targeted use of already established technologies such as smartphones.

A key task of the project carried out on behalf of STOA (The Science Technology Options Assessment Panel of the European Parliament) was to advise the European Parliament on the design of future framework conditions for the use of technologies to support people with disabilities.

Research and Development

Whether in the areas of education, employment, health or general living assistance, the importance of the development of ATs for people with disabilities will continue to grow. The definition and meaning of what an assistive technology is, is still very much contested in the academic but also political debate. Therefore, a sound foresight analysis of the state of the art as well as future trends of ATs is needed to evaluate societal and political options. These would properly address the needs of people with disabilities, are perceived as positive by this group, and thus support inclusion in Europe’s society.

Whether in the areas of education, employment, health or everyday life, the importance of the development of AT for people with disabilities will continue to increase in the future. So far, the definition of what assistive technologies are is controversial in both academic and political debate. Therefore, in addition to regulatory, health and demographic aspects, this project also comprehensively analysed the state of the art and future trends of ATs. Promoting the inclusion of people with disabilities in Europe requires social and political options that address the needs of people with disabilities and are positively perceived by affected groups.

AT for inclusion were analyzed for three different types:

  • Hearing loss or impairment
  • Blindness and visual impairment
  • People with autism

In terms of methodology, the approach followed the scientific foresight method developed by STOA. In addition to a literature search, an online survey and expert interviews were conducted to assess the needs and perceptions of assistive technologies.

Project Outcomes

Key aspects of the project were discussed in January 2017 during a full day workshop at the European Parliament with members of parliament, experts and representatives of organisations of people with disabilities. The agenda of the workshop (PDF) "Assistive technologies for the inclusion of people with disabilities in society, education and jobs" can be downloaded.

The results of the project are presented in five sub-reports (see publications): Specific reports on regulatory, health and demographic aspects, on current and future technologies, on perspectives of affected people and experts as well as on legal, social and ethical aspects are summarised in a separate analysis report. The central statements are also visualized in a short video.

A woman with a hearing disability is using a smartphone. The inclusion of persons with disabilities is a central goal of the European Union.