Flinders engineers enable independent living

South Australia’s ageing population and people with disabilities are one step closer to living with greater independence thanks to the work of electronic engineers from Flinders University.

Officially launched on Tuesday (August 13), the Retrofitted Electronic Aids project demonstrates that a range of readily available electronic and electro-mechanical products can be fitted to an existing house or dwelling for less than $10,000.

This demonstration project – undertaken by the Medical Device Partnering Program (MDPP) at Flinders University – has shown that off-the-shelf products such as universal remote controls, intercoms and voice recognition technology can be easily controlled by a person living with a disability, providing greater quality of life and independence.

Funded by SA Health’s Office for the Ageing, the project is being launched at the residence of Park Holme client Rosalie, whose house was recently fitted with a range of electronic equipment to establish the viability of the project.

Examples of the activities Rosalie can now do unassisted include making phone calls from her wheelchair, operating her fan, opening her front door via an intercom system and using voice commands to access the Internet and Skype.

MDPP Director Professor Karen Reynolds (pictured with Rosalie) said the technologies could be applied to a range of settings, from the homes of people with disabilities to the residences of the ageing population wishing to remain in their own homes for longer.

“We’ve been able to demonstrate that you can use off-the-shelf products in a cost-effective way to give people with disabilities greater independence and control over their own lives,” Professor Reynolds said.

“While relatively simple, this is the first time anyone has demonstrated that existing technologies can be easily integrated and easily operated, all for under $10,000.”

For Rosalie, the ability to phone her sister for the first time without the help of a carer was a special moment.

“The devices that have been fitted to my home are discreet and easy to operate,” Rosalie said.

“It’s given me back some independence and privacy, and it will make a huge difference to my overall quality of living,” she said.

Skye Jacobi, Director Intergovernment Relations and Ageing, SA Health, said the project demonstrates the potential for older people or those living with a disability to live at home safely for as long as possible, while still maintaining quality of life and independence.

“As one of the original partners of the MDPP, SA Health Office for the Ageing has contributed nearly $450,000 towards the development and evaluation of a range of technical prototypes, each with its own potential for universal benefits to people living in the community,” Ms Jacobi said.

“The Retrofitted Electronic Aids project has emerged as a concept from this earlier work of the MDPP and we look forward to seeing how it can be further developed to benefit our ageing population.”

The MDPP was also recently awarded a certificate of recognition by the Minster for Disabilities and Social Housing, Tony Piccolo, for its contributions to the Woodville West Urban Renewal Project, which features eight ‘smart living’ apartments with cutting-edge assistive technologies for people with disabilities.

In addition, the National Institute of Labour Studies (NILS) at Flinders University is leading a team of researchers, academics and disability experts to evaluate the roll out of the new national disability insurance scheme, DisabilityCare Australia.

Commissioned by the Australian Government, the NILS-led team will monitor and evaluate the experience of participants, their families and carers, service providers and the disability sector workforces in South Australia, Tasmania, New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT, over the first three years of the scheme, with the findings used to inform the future rollout of DisabilityCare Australia.

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