Foundation for Assistive Technology Research Database

The Department of Health has decided to end the independent production of the annual report to Parliament on research and development work relating to assistive technology, in order to make an annual saving of £68k by bringing the contract in-house and dramatically scaling back the information provided to Parliament, to researchers and the public. We believe that this decision is short-sighted and a false economy; one that will significantly hamper efforts to support disabled and older people to become independent through the use of technology.

Assistive Technology (AT) is any product or service designed to enable independence for disabled and older people. This could be anything from making web applications more accessible to choosing a red dot for your astigmatism.

  • The story so far
  • Making the case to MPs and Peers
  • What you can do to support FAST

The story so far

Under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 there is a statutory requirement for a report on the progress made in assistive technology research and development to be laid before Parliament so that policy makers and funders can assess what research and development is being undertaken and the priorities for future funding. See this year’s report here.

The Department propose to produce the report in-house ‘at a smaller scale’, at ‘no additional cost’ that ‘highlights the investment in new Government funded research’. FAST and its supporters believe that the intention is to provide an insubstantial report that only minimally meets the statutory requirement.

The Department themselves when they tendered the contract for production of the report in 1998 recognised that the most valuable aspect of such information provision would be a publicly available online database that brings together the widely dispersed information about these technologies, which is then brought together into the annual report. FAST also provides monthly bulletins to keep researchers up to date on funding, jobs, events and research results and projects funded. This makes a strong link with the research community, boosting the level of information we receive from researchers.

The Department will not in future provide a publicly available database on research and development in assistive technology, nor provide bulletins or any other information resource. The Department states that ‘much of the information is available on the internet in the databases listed below’: 

  • The Gateway to Research on the Research Councils UK website
  • The Grant Lookup tool on Europe PubMed Central’s website
  • The Community Research and Development Information Service (CORDIS) on the European Commission’s website
  • The Assisted Living Innovation Platform website

The Department do not seem to be aware that these websites:

  • Do not feature research funded ‘on behalf of any Minister of the Crown” (as per the 1970 Act) for example, that in education, housing, employment, or transport, nor do they pick up the projects funded through AHSNs, the NHS or social care and many of the other funding sources;
  • Provide very little if any information on the progress or outcomes of projects;
  • Do not bring together the various assistive technology areas, such as wheelchairs or telecare, so the databases have to be searched multiple times to find the relevant information;
  • Cover only certain technology areas, for example the ALIP (_connect) site only features telecare and telehealth.
  • Do not provide contact details in order for researchers to build networks and find out further information.

The Department proposes that the in-house report will highlight ‘the outcomes from projects’ but does not identify how they will gather this information. As the online databases they identify are inadequate for this purpose, then their case for producing the information ‘at no additional cost’ cannot be substantiated.

See the latest response from the Department of Health here.

Making the case to MPs and Peers

FAST has been busy writing to MPs and Peers and meeting them to present the case for continuing to fund an external contract for an information resource for the sector.

This has been really helped by supporters writing to their MPs and this has been the main reason we have secured meetings with MPs. If you have not already done so, please write to your MP using our template letter, here.

MPs and Peers who are supporting FAST’s case:

  • Paul Maynard, Conservative MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys
  • Andy Slaughter, Labour MP for Hammersmith
  • Kate Green, Labour MP for Stretford and Urmiston
  • Andrew Gwynne, Labour MP for Denton and Reddish
  • Lord Philip Hunt of Kings Heath (Labour)
  • Jonathan Evans, Conservative MP for Cardiff North
  • Dominic Grieve, Conservative MP for Beaconsfield

Meetings are due in October with:

  • Sammy Wilson, DUP MP for East Antrim
  • Anne McGuire, Labour MP for Stirling

FAST have secured a meeting on the 18th of November with Norman Lamb, Minister of of State for Care and Support at which we will make our case.

Aims: What we want from this meeting is for the Department to reverse the decision to take the contract in-house on the basis that, although budgets are tight, this is a false economy which is having a significantly detrimental effect on the sector.

So we want MPs to write to Norman Lamb before the meeting on the 18th of November to ask him to strongly consider reversing the Department’s decision.

What you can do to support FAST

Write to your MP

Please write to your MP – it really does make a difference as they mainly pick up issues if a constituent raises it with them. You can use the template letter here. To find out who your MP is go here.

Attach the briefing for MPs, Lords and policy makers which sets out our concerns and let us know if you get a response.

Provide a statement of support

Earlier in the summer FAST asked supporters to tell us if they value the information resource from FAST. We were overwhelmed with the support and have used these statements in making our case to MPs and Peers. 

Please send us your statement of support, particularly telling us why not having access to the FAST database would be a problem for you or saying why alternative databases do not meet your requirements as well as the FAST database does.

Statements of support from the Assistive Technology sector

Dr Tim Adlam, Clinical Scientist, Head of Mechanical Engineering, Designability:

I am delighted to support the work of Foundation for Assistive Technology. FAST is of great value to me as a researcher in the field, and I have made good use of its services since its inception in 1998. The Foundation is a national hub that provides an up-to-date point of reference for existing research in the field, as well as providing prompt notification of relevant funding calls and other resources. The annual report provides a useful survey of research in the field, and enables us to avoid duplicating work, and quickly find relevant research collaborators. We regularly attend and present at the RAATE conference as it is the only assistive technology research focused conference to provide an overview of the field in the UK. FAST is a valuable focus and voice for assistive technology research to policy makers in the UK, and also provides a point of contact for and raises the profile of UK assistive technology research abroad.

Dr Mike Wald, Southampton University:

I am emailing to confirm the importance and value of the service provided by FAST in saving very valuable research time and reducing the possibility of missing very important information.

Dr Paul McCullagh, Reader, University of Ulster:

Assistive technology is an area of growing importance, particularly with an ageing demographic and a move to self management of long term conditions. The Foundation for Assistive Technology has provided a hub for dissemination of Assistive Technology activities over the last decade. This activity is particularly important as universities seek to quantify impact of their research work in this domain. I would like to express my support for FAST’s work on organisation and particularly on the compilation of the annual parliamentary report. I value FAST’s work to date and express support for its continued work in this area.

Professor Jonathan Freeman, Managing Director, i2 media research ltd, Professor of Psychology, Department of Psychology Goldsmiths, University of London:

I am writing to record my support for FAST and the valuable service it provides in disseminating information about Assistive Technolgy projects, collaborations, funding opportunities, partners and potential project partners, and publications. It would be a huge loss to the assistive technology community should FAST cease to operate as it does now, and I strongly hope there will be no change to FAST’s funding and structure.

Eleanor van den Heuvel, Researcher, Brunel University:

The field of Assistive technology seems to be reaching its adolescence, with more useful and more affordable devices being developed every month and a far greater availability for a wider audience than in recent years. FAST has played an important role in helping the research and development community to keep on top of the latest developments. Unlike other academic fields we have very limited range of low impact journal in which we can publish our work and publication is extremely slow relative to the pace of change in the world of assistive devices. FAST is vital information resource for keeping abreast of the latest projects and helping us deliver technological solutions to difficulties that older and disabled people have to live with every day. It would be counterproductive to cut funding to this vital resource at this time since there is still some much more that Assistive technology has to contribute.

Marianne Markowski, Middlesex University:

I would like to express my gratitude for you compiling the FAST database. The FAST website and database on projects is very useful to me to provide me with a current overview of projects and when I search for keywords. I’m currently in a position where I keep my colleagues uptodate about accessibility projects in specific areas – one of them is older people. FAST provides me with examples, background info and funding calls. I very much hope that this service will not cease to be offered.

Simon Judge, Senior Clinical Scientist, Barnsley Assistive Technology Team – Engineering Independence:

I was concerned to hear about the proposed changes to the DH contract with FAST as I feel the work that FAST carries out in this field is invaluable from both a service provision and research perspective. FAST’s contribution to policy and development work around AAC and other AT specialised services has directly led to the acceptance of these services onto the NHS England prescribed services list and the securing of £30m of convergence funding. Without this work, I believe the NHS would still be spending more and achieving a lower quality provision for its patients. FAST’s contribution around research is also invaluable – the AT field is relatively small and works with a significantly disadvantaged group of individuals – as such maintaining significant research activity in this area is challenging. FAST’s resources, including the monthly updates, are invaluable. In summary, I think that the group of people for whom we are working for both as clinicians and researchers – those with significant physical and other disabilities – will be disadvantaged if FAST’s viability is threatened in this way.

Gill Whitney, Design for All Research Group, School of Science & Technology, Middlesex University:

I am writing to express my support for FAST and the invaluable information they provide on assistive technology. The information manages to successfully cross the boundaries between the fields of medical, social and technical research and development and is always useful and timely.

David Long, Clinical Scientist, Head of Specialist Disability Service, Oxford Centre for Enablement, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust:

The monthly email bulletin from FAST is a very helpful resource for myself and my team; it includes all sorts of useful information that we would not come across otherwise. We stay informed about critical developments in the assistive technology field, including on research and development, and would be required to find this out, perhaps with less reliability, from a variety of sources ourselves, were FAST no longer able to provide the service. Use of assistive technology is increasing at a significant rate, so it is all the more important that the professionals involved are kept up to speed to ensure that the most cost and functionally effective solutions may be found for our patients. It would be a great shame if FAST were no longer able to provide this service.

Steve Lee, OpenDirective:

I wanted to say I was very concerned to hear your services might be dropped. The website and regular emails allow me to keep up to date on AT research and developments. The report is especially useful as a snapshot of the latest state. As an AT developer this is vital for my work. I am not aware of any other source of information that comes close. There’s plenty for accessibility, but none for AT. Thanks again for a great service!

Sian Hoolahan, Communications Manager, choicesupport:

I work for a charity, Choice Support, who provide services for over 900 adults with learning disabilities and I would very much like to support the continued publication of the FAST Bulletin. Choice Support has found FAST a useful source of information about assistive technology for our staff, managers and people we support with a learning disability. We have started using much more assistive technology in our services to support people with disabilities. Unfortunately we haven’t always been able to get the information we need from local authorities and health services to help us to do this work. We rely on getting good information from sources like FAST about what new technology is available and how to practically apply this within our services. You can see from the report of our project called Better Nights, which details our project in Southwark to reduce night time support and replace with assistive technology, this has helped to improve quality but also save valuable public funding. I do hope that funding is continued and you continue to publish FAST.

Dr Gerald Craddock, Chief Officer, Centre for Excellence in Universal Design, Dublin:

The service that has been provided by FAST for the last 15 years has been invaluable to people in Ireland involved in research and development in the area of disability and Assistive Technology. The quality and depth of their work is not only recognised in Ireland but also internationally as I communicate with research centres across the globe. Finally the consistent quality of FAST’s work over the years is a credit to the team and the leadership by its director Keren Down.

Dr Anne Mandy PhD, MSc, Reader, Director of Post Graduate Studies, Brighton Doctoral College:

The FAST website is an invaluable resource and provides particularly useful information about funding. It would be a huge loss if the FAST network and resource was lost.

Lawrence R. Normie, Executive Director, GeronTech – The Israeli Center for Assistive Technology & Aging:

I was surprised and dismayed to learn of the decision by DoH to transfer in-house the preparation of the annual parliamentary report on assistive technology research and development. FAST has done a superb job over the last several years in preparing this report and it is very sad that it in the name of administrative cost-cutting this is to terminate. It is hard to believe that an in-house report will approach anywhere near the quality of that produced by FAST and any cost saving surely would be marginal. I can only hope that common sense will prevail towards turning around this ill-considered decision.

Kianoush Nazarpour, Lecturer in Biomedical, Engineering, School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Newcastle University: 

Annually FAST provides a very interesting report on all activities in UK (and EU) on assistive technology. In addition, I often use their database to get an update on rehabilitation research in UK, to find out who is doing what and to seek new collaborations. I would be very disappointed if FAST closes down.

Roger Wilson-Hinds, Director, 

We have spent the last three years developing a smartphone family of apps for blind and low vision mainly senior users. Much of our work is isolated and, without FAST information, we have no way of knowing who else is working in our field, who is funding projects and who are the movers and shakers. Being blind ourselves, we appreciate that the FAST information is presented in a form we can interpret and access without barriers. It would be a sad day if the modest funding that keeps FAST sustainable were to be withdrawn and its accumulated knowledge and expertise lost to the assistive technology sector.

Claire Bentley, Research Associate, Telehealth & Care Technologies (TaCT), NIHR CLAHRC YH Rehabilitation and Assistive Technology Group, School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR), The University of Sheffield: 

The Foundation for Assistive Technology (FAST) provide vital resources to those of us working in the assistive technology field, for example picking up information from the annual report, email bulletins and the Twitter feed. This field of research is fast-paced, innovative and highly relevant to the needs and quality of life of both present and future generations. This area is receiving a lot of attention and it is difficult to keep track of what is going on. Having FAST as a central source of information is vital, and surely the fact that this field is so topical and receives so much attention is enough justification to keep FAST in place. FAST have been very helpful both in terms of finding out what is going on and also in helping to publicise our team’s research to others. Again this will be more difficult if this central dissemination route is removed, and thus it will be more difficult to widen the impact of our research.

Pauline White, Occupational Therapist, Vocational Services, Pan Dorset Community Services Directorate , orset HealthCare University NHS Foundation Trust:

I work as an Occupational Therapist in vocational rehabilitation. This information provided by FAST team provides options for people living with health issues to move into work goals. For example up to date information and explanation of what and how technology could be used. The information is invaluable as I and my team are not using such technology day and would not know who else to obtain that information.

Prof Alan Cottenden, Professor of Incontinence Technology, University College London: 

I write in support of FAST and, in particular, its regular newsletters. I find these extremely useful in alerting me to news, initiatives and events I might otherwise miss and providing the information in accessible summaries that I can access and browse effortlessly, following up easily on anything of interest. I do hope this service will continue.

Clive Gilbert:

I am an independent research consultant and support a number of charitable social care providers to address the assistive technology needs of their service users. I regard the Foundation for Assistive Technology as the UK’s foremost resource on the subject, and lean heavily on its annual parliamentary report on assistive technology research and development, monthly newsletters and other services to provide comprehensive advice to disabled and older people and their carers.

Mrs E.A. Draffan, WAIS, ECS, University of Southampton:

Having worked in the field of Assistive Technology for many years across health and education I was saddened to hear that not only was the annual FAST report threatened but also the whole service. I constantly make use of all aspects of your website resources, from the lists of courses to the updates and newsletters and especially the specific research topics that are often covered by the team. As a researcher I find it incredibly helpful to be able to check on projects being undertaken by other centres of excellence and universities and have even collaborated with some individuals as a result of meeting up with members of the team and networking at conferences. I do hope all aspects of the service can be saved and wish you all the best in the future.

Dr. Gillian Ward, Principal Lecturer in Assistive Technology, Health Design & Technology Institute, Coventry University Technology Park:

I am writing to give my support to the continued production of the annual parliamentary report on assistive technology research and development by the Foundation for Assistive Technology (FAST). FAST have undertaken this report for the last 15 years and have a wealth of knowledge and expertise in this area that contributes to the breadth, depth and quality of this report. FAST also provides useful and valuable services in addition to the production of this report. Rather than having to search multiple websites, researchers use the database on the FAST website to find out what grants have been funded in a particular field and to identify gaps in research and FAST maintain the information provided on research and development across assistive technology. Without this activity the current position of research in the area could not be easily identified and included in the report. The report and the regularly updated database on the FAST website are very much appreciated by academic researchers, funding bodies and industry alike and I would urge you not to lose this valuable resource.

Dr Damien Coyle,Reader, School of Computing and Intelligent Systems,Member, Intelligent Systems Research Centre, Faculty of Computing and Engineering, Magee Campus, University of Ulster: 

I am writing to outline my concern on hearing that the Department of Health are currently proposing to scale down the annual parliamentary report on assistive technology research and development and take the contract in-house. This annual parliamentary report has been produced by the Foundation For Assistive Technology for 15 years and each year it is produced to an impeccable standard. FAST is an established network and has been keeping abreast of all funded research projects related to assistive technology and promotes wider engagement, particularly from industry and end users, including supporting collaborations for between academia, industry and end users. With all the activities that FAST undertakes relating to assistive technology R&D and with its network of contacts established over many years, FAST is in the best place to produce the annual parliamentary report. Each year the parliamentary report comprehensively covers the ongoing activities relating to assistive technologies and is an excellent resource for researchers in academia and industry and for end users. It would be very unfortunate if the report were to change or be scaled back and if this had an impact of the work that FAST undertakes.

Ray Hodgkinson, British Healthcare Trades Association:

FAST is the only central information base available in the Assistive Technology sector. The Department of Health carrying out the exercise is doubtful and they will require expertise, time and people which will cost more. The process of cessation of the contract with FAST seems hurried and without consultation.

Professor Graham F Welch, Chair of Music Education, Institute of Education, University of London:

I am pleased to confirm that I find the information provided by FAST and also its role in disseminating updates on assistive technology very useful professionally. It provides an essential service.

Sue Benson, Managing Editor, Journal of Dementia Care/Hawker Conferences:

At the Journal of Dementia Care we very much appreciate these updates to keep us and our readers informed of all developments in the field.

Professor Alastair S Macdonald, Senior Researcher, School of Design, The Glasgow School of Art: 

I am alarmed and very disappointed to hear that the DoH are currently proposing to scale down the annual parliamentary report on assistive technology research and development and to take this in-house. FAST have done a really excellent job of this over the past 15 years. As an active researcher using RCUK funding and supervising PhD students, the FAST reports and website provide vital up-to-date and very comprehensive sources often used for key searches of current activity in the field. Our own work has appeared in the report and we consider the exposure, through FAST, vital in improving the dissemination and increasing the impact of our work, now key criteria in measuring research value. I would be pleased to add my name to any lobby for the continuation of FAST in providing their vital service.

Dr Nigel Harris, Director, Designability, Bath: 

It is indeed a matter of some concern that the Department of Health are proposing to bring the publication of the annual report ‘in house’ without any clear commitment to providing adequate resource for this work. I would like to endorse the work that FAST has carried over the past 5 years in maintaining the database, supporting researchers, fostering wider communication and in compiling the annual report. The report in particular, is the primary reference for work carried out in this area. I know that the comprehensive nature of the work is the result of the experience, dedication and hard work of your small team. We recently tried to carry out a search for ourselves and found that information is dispersed across a NIHR, Research Council and TSB websites. The report is important to us as we regularly prepare research proposals and use this information to determine who else is active in the area, as there is often 6-12 months delay in publishing work. With increasing pressure on health and social care budgets, the emphasis on return to work, vocational rehabilitation and improving the outcomes of health interventions, I would have thought it more important to increase, rather than decrease resources in this area. Finally, I would like to say how much I value your longstanding personal dedication and commitment to championing the development of appropriate technology for people with disabilities. I know that this is driven by a desire to improve the quality of life, irrespective of where, or who, carries this out.

Anna Reeves DL, Manager, ACE Centres:

I would like to express my grave concern at the decision to withdraw responsibility for the production and dissemination of the annual parliamentary report on assistive technology research and development from FAST. The report is a vital component of the assistive technology industry and has required considerable knowledge, skills and understanding of the wider assistive technology community and its stakeholders to produce I do not believe that the potential cost savings resulting from this withdrawal can justify the impact it will have on the development of the assistive technology sector or that its delegation to in-house production within DH will not corrode the quality of information that the FAST Report has always provided. FAST is an organisation held in extremely high regard for its insight and understanding across the broader assistive technology community. In addition to dissemination of assistive technology research and information, it is uniquely placed to facilitate shared learning across this rapidly evolving sector. With the increasing emphasis on patient voice and choice and enhanced patient awareness of the applications of assistive technology, the independence and respect that FAST has earned is vitally important and must be maintained. I would like to urge decision makers in DH to reconsider this and reinstate the responsibility for the annual production of this report with FAST – not only to preserve and maintain the legacy and integrity of its impact, but also in recognition of the far greater consequences of withdrawing it.

Dr Peter Cudd, Senior Researcher, Telehealth & Care Technologies (TaCT), NIHR CLAHRC YH

I am writing to you to say that any scaling down of the breadth and depth of the report is highly undesireable. The document is a valuable tool to me for horizon, current and past activity scanning to inform the research and development we under take – or indeed who to talk to on specific topics to look to advance a sole or collaborative new research and development project. AT a European level – i.e. from the Association for the Advancement of Assistive Technology in Europe for which I am currently on the board – its an invaluable tool to allow a snap shot of UK activity. This document puts us in a strong position in the European landscape – not least because often its very much more difficult to know what is going on in other EU states. Recently various European nations have scaled down or re-allocated nationally co-ordinated infrastructure for people with disability, e.g. in Denmark and Sweden. This is very surprising given the recent commitment to more inclusive societies. It is worrying that the UK may be joining this slippery slope to providing less for a vulnerable part of our population. Meanwhile the UK has an opportunity to increase its capability to use technology to benefit the NHS and UK citizens through technological services – especially in terms of self management and independence not just for the traditional population of people with long term disability but the more numerous general patient population for whom early return to their own homes is stymied by a lack of appropriate expertise in use of AT and indeed available AT. The maintenance of the detailed annual reports allow UK researchers to see what has been or is being done, and still needs to be done – without this resource this will be more difficult and may well lead to duplication of effort. I would strongly urge the Department of Health or whoever else is involved to think again.

Janet Savage, Library Services Development Officer University of Salford

I am writing a statement of support for your services such as FAST updates and Website, which are invaluable resources. For eight years I worked as Compliance Officer at University of Salford, where one of my responsibilities was Assistive Technology provision for students, in terms of software and some hardware. I regularly used the information available on FAST to inform my project planning, help to keep me appraised of technological developments, initiatives by other organisations and provided me with excellent sectoral information which was integral to my role. I am now a Development Officer, and still use the information to inform my work, or pass the link to the relevant report, initiative or legal update to one of my many colleagues. Additionally, I helped to set up, and Chaired the Salford Disabled Staff Network for three years. I circulated the FAST Report to my colleagues around the University, in relation to professional matters, and sometimes to highlight areas where progress was being made in relation to their own lives, or that of their family. FAST’s work is invaluable, and is making a significant difference, I believe withdrawal of funding to support FAST would be a grave mistake.

Dr Geoff Williams, Senior Research Associate, Speech, Hearing & Phonetics, UCL

I was very concerned to hear that the future of the Foundation for Assistive Technology (FAST) is in jeopardy. As a researcher in assistive technology for mental health and other applications, I need to constantly seek funding for research in the insecure world of academic research, and I find the FAST website an invaluable resource that provides particularly useful information about funding, with a particular emphasis on research across disciplines. It would be a huge loss to the scientific research community and the people it serves if the FAST network and resource was lost.