Adept at Adaptation

Dr Saul Albert, Professor Elizabeth Stokoe (Social Sciences and Humanities), Professor Thorsten Gruber, Dr Crispin Coombs (Business and Economics), Professor Donald Hislop (Aberdeen University), and Mark Harrison (Social Action Solutions)

AI and social robotics could have a vital role in the delivery of health and social care services.

Current virtual assistants – for example, the Amazon Echo (Alexa) – are advertised as assistive devices for elderly and disabled people. But how accessible are they really?

The British Academy funded Adept at Adaptation project studies how disabled people adapt consumer technology – including voice-controlled lights, power sockets, entertainment systems, and other smart devices – as accessible home automation systems.

Key to the project’s success is its Social Action methodology – engaging disabled people from the outset in co-designing the aims and processes, and ensuring that the outcomes are relevant and useful to the participant-stakeholders.

As part of the project, disabled people are recording video of themselves and their care teams interacting while doing routine tasks such as getting up in the morning.

The researchers are using video analysis to study these interactions to investigate how they work together, and what role their virtual assistants play in achieving everyday activities.

The research team and participants are co-producing a series of how-to guides to share practical tips and ideas about how to adapt these technologies to solve real access issues.

The guides will also include a report aimed at technologists, care services and policymakers about involving disabled people in designing the future of health and social care services.

The team are currently recruiting for an ESRC PhD Collaborative Fellowship with the Alzheimer's Society to extend the project to explore how people with dementia, and their carers, use and adapt consumer technologies to enhance their independence in the home.