Last month’s annual conference of the EASPD (European Association of Service Providers for Persons with Disabilities) in Barcelona asserted the need for technology-based solutions and assistive technologies to contribute to the provision of high quality, user-centered and community-based support services.

The conference, Technology and Digitalisation in Social Care, brought together 250 people from different social care providers across Europe and focused on policy and practice.  CATCH Professor Luc de Witte gave a keynote speech on the topic of sustainability of technology-supported care. 

In a number of interactive sessions, the participants discussed issues including the impact of technology on the lives of people with disabilities, on professionals and on organisations, legal and ethical frameworks, digital inclusion and the economic sustainability of technology. 

The conference made very clear that the use of technology in social care is urgently needed but also still in its infancy. In each country, the social care sector is under great pressure with decreasing funding, shortage in qualified staff and increasing needs.

There was a strong shared feeling that technology is needed to cope with these challenges. But it was also clear that the sector is not familiar with technology.

Professor Maurice Grinberg, from the New Bulgarian University, presented the results of a survey (Barriers to the wider deployment of person-centred technology in services for persons with disabilities). The survey asked service providers in 18 EU countries to what extent they were using technology in their services.

On average only about 36% of the responding service providers use some kind of technology, the others not. Only about 30% of service providers indicated they had someone in their staff who knew about technology, often without any formal qualifications.

The participants expressed an urgent need for training and education to support the necessary transformation of the sector. Another conclusion was that there is a clear need for centres of expertise where clients, professionals and organisations can obtain information about the possibilities of technology. 

The discussion about economic sustainability of technology-supported care also raised a number of concerns. Very few innovations are implemented on a substantial scale; most projects and initiatives stay small and do not reach the market. A large number of barriers were identified, with lack of knowledge among professionals and clients, financial barriers, resource barriers and lack of qualified staff being among the most important.  

EASPD is the European Association of Service Providers for persons with disabilities and represents over 15,000 support services for persons with disabilities across Europe, including many in the UK.