Objective. Services that aim at bridging the gap between end user needs-expectations and available assistive technologies as part of wider solutions for greater independence and social participation of people with disabilities, have to cope with transformations in society. Welfare policies, population trends, changing cultural awareness and economic restrictions are constantly challenging both models and practices of service delivery in Assistive Technology (AT). This is becoming increasingly clear now that in many European countries responsible authorities have to cut back expenditure, reducing what was considered a right and putting at risk the wellbeing of frail parts of the population. There is evidence that AT leads to important social benefits, but can AT also lead to reduced social costs?
Main Content. To respond to this important question, and to assess its own service delivery model, the AT team of Emilia Romagna's Regional Centre for Assistive Technology has conducted a study evaluating the everyday operations in the light of current economic and cultural circumstances. This study was conducted in order to arrive at a more precise and objective definition of the work of the Centre which consists in providing advice concerning the choice of AT by drawing on expertise of a multidisciplinary nature, independently of commercial interests, so as to contribute to the autonomy and quality of the lives of people with disabilities. The tools for outcome analysis selected were: SCAI (Siva Cost Analysis Instrument), QUEST, PIADS. We conducted investigations regarding the operations of the AT Centre on the following levels: 1) Costs and outcomes of interventions carried out by the AT Centre, 2) Appreciation of solutions and services by end users. For 40 cases of AT intervention (2008-10) it has been possible to apply a SCAI analysis.
Results. In more than half of the cases we found with SCAI considerable (>50.000 euro in 5 years) savings in social costs in all three areas investigated: home adaptation and domotics, aids for mobility and daily living, ICT-AT devices, most clearly in the first two areas (peaks up to 290.000 euro. In those cases where it was possible to submit user satisfaction scales, we found positive outcomes (QUEST: av. score 4.2 (range 0-5). PIADS: No subject rated less than 0 on any area (range −3 to +3)).
Conclusion. Interpreting social costs as the result of factors in different spheres (health, school, work, community, family,…) opens up new horizons for awareness of the real social impact of proposed aids: aids are no longer seen as a “cost” that the public sector must bear in order to ensure a right, but as an “investment” that generates wellbeing for end users and important savings, providing policy makers know how to recognise their full extent.