Adaptive technology can be surprisingly low-tech and low-cost, as Julia Piggott discovers.
A quick Internet search on adaptive technology throws up pictures of gadgets that wouldn’t look out of place on the Starship Enterprise, with sci-fi-esque names, and equally out-of-this-world price tags! Recent technological developments have been welcomed to rave reviews and substantial claims concerning their ability to enable people with physical and learning disabilities to accomplish previously difficult or impossible tasks. Yet at Pyramid of Arts (PoA) – a Leeds-based charity promoting equal access to the arts for those with and without learning disabilities – we argue that the focus should be on ‘adaptation’, not on ‘technology’.
PoA recently launched a new creative arts programme, funded by The Big Lottery, specifically aimed at people with complex and high support needs. You would be forgiven if the first image that came to mind was filled with voice-activated robotic arms. However, PoA’s work demon-strates that technology which alters the environment to suit the person is as valid as any high-tech alternative.
Maggie McCool is lead artist of The Bungalow Day Project (the Flagship initiative of PoA’s High Support Programme), and agrees that providing equal access to the arts need not be high-tech, nor high-cost, “When working alongside people with high support needs, it’s about thinking laterally, and either adapting what you already have, or modifying the methods of interaction in order to reach the desired outcome.”
The materials at a typical Bungalow Day session are nothing out of the ordinary: paint, charcoals, brushes, a flip chart, etc. PoA puts its own slant on adaptive technology through its unconventional re-engineering: combining everyday objects to allow people to access materials and use processes that were previously difficult or impossible for them. Flip charts are carefully re-arranged to serve as easels and the paint brushes and charcoals taped to long bamboo sticks, allowing those with restricted mobility to paint and draw on giant pieces of paper on the floor or attached to the wall. PoA’s approach has even seen members using paint-filled water pistols to decorate a papered booth.
PoA’s weekly Ramshead Wood Music Group also successfully championed a ‘back to basics’ approach to adaptive technology. Everyone, regardless of their level of disability, was able to join in making music thanks to a number of innovative adaptations. Bells were hung, not on a fixed frame, but on a clothes rail that could be adjusted so that the instruments were at the right level for their users; another session saw members with severe mobility difficulties joining in the musical fun by blowing into specially adapted plastic tube mouthpieces. A recent, very energetic session using stomp tubes – tuned bamboo pipes played by banging them on the floor or with a table tennis bat – was a big hit (excuse the pun) with people of all abilities, and allowed the group to share in creating complex musical ideas.
In its high-tech incarnation, adaptive technology involves the invention of new products and processes solely for use by people with physical or learning disabilities. Low-tech adaptive technology affords everyone equal access to the same materials and resources. At PoA this even means attaching a pole to brooms and mops so everyone can help to clear up! State-of-the-art adaptive technology has its place, especially for those with physical and learning disabilities… but for now, low-tech is providing high impact results at Pyramid of Arts.