How one Bundaberg organisation is changing the assisted technology landscape

Damien Tracey, CEO of Community Lifestyle Support, on innovative technology improving the lives of people with disability and setting up an assistive technology hub in Bundaberg.

Damien Tracey

Allied health staff at Community Lifestyle Support (CLS) work with people with disability daily, and are continually trying to find solutions to meet their clients’ individual needs and improve their everyday lives. 
 
Damien Tracey, CEO at CLS, explains that his staff often struggle to find products or solutions available on the mainstream market to meet the unique, and often complex, needs of individuals with disability.

“We use the term disability as an umbrella term for people that may have very complex physical impairment, or maybe an intellectual disability, so it is a very broad term and everyone is quite unique,” explains Damien.

“Finding solutions on the mainstream market is often difficult. While there are thousands of assistive technology solutions out there, our allied health team regularly encounter people with disability for whom the available solutions do not address their unique needs. Until now they’ve just had to make do.” he says.

CLS are looking to solve this problem by setting up a new assistive technology facility to help staff to create custom designed solutions with the end user directly.

“Essentially what we are looking at doing is bringing together engineers, therapists, designers, backyard tinkerers, mechanics- anyone who has got a skillset that could potentially be leveraged, into one space,” says Damien.

“We’re looking at creating a large fabrication and prototyping space where these people are able to comfortably come together and work with end users to develop innovative assistive technology solutions that meet each individuals unique needs” he says.

“3D printing and scanning and high tech fabrication equipment will mean that we can be quite responsive. To be able to design and prototype something on the ground in a regional area like Bundaberg, working directly with someone with a disability, is quite profound,” says Damien.

Damien explains that whilst the idea for the collaborative assisted technology space has been percolating for a while, putting their idea into action has been prompted in a large part by the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

“The NDIS is really serious about the use of assistive technology to empower people with disability so we could see that the allied health and technology space was shaping up to be quite exciting with plenty of opportunities for growth.” says Damien.

“The NDIS is projected to spend $1 billion a year on assistive technology by 2020. As the NDIS is founded on an actuarial model, it bases its decisions on the lifetime cost of a participant, as opposed to costing a participant’s support needs on an annual basis.” explains Damien

“Given that they are looking at a lifetime cost, they are finding that assisted technology solutions, like modifications to homes to install smart technology, is a no-brainer. The upfront cost may be higher than providing human resources to provide that support, but over a lifetime there are significant savings in using technology,” he says.

CLS have recently employed a mechatronic engineering graduate under the Advance Queensland Knowledge Transfer Partnerships program.

MEMS based switch

The Knowledge Transfer Partnerships program supports startups and small businesses to employ on a graduate, supported by a university, to work on an innovative project.

“We applied for the Knowledge Transfer Partnerships in collaboration with Central Queensland University, and we’re working with Professor Carolyn Unsworth from the School of Health, Medical and Applied Sciences, and Dr Prasad Gudimetla from the School of Engineering and Technology” says Damien.

Damien explains they are working together to provide affective access solutions to clients with complex motor impairments which limit muscular control by developing a microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) based switch option.

“A MEMS based switch is a critical component in systems to allow individuals to complex physical means to control assisted technology,” explains Damien.

“In essence we are developing a small switch that can be worn against the skin and can detect minute muscle twitches, thereby allowing people to control devices,” he says.

“This type of switch could be built to include communications software, personal emergency alarms, and smart home optimisation; offering huge benefits to individuals who may not otherwise be able to communicate or control technology,” he says.

Community Lifestyle Support were part of the Advance Queensland Regional Innovators Showcase at the Myriad festival held in March.

Damien says that Myriad helped to facilitate interactions with people who would not usually be interested in CLS and people they would not have otherwise come into contact with. He explained that thanks to Myriad, CLS now have opportunities to collaborate with those companies in the future.

“A particular highlight at Myriad was the opportunity to meet the developers of a high-tech driving simulator. As our conversation progressed, we could both see the potential for their system to be modified to allow people with disability to access a safe and realistic driver education platformhe explains.

“Another innovative start-up was using virtual reality to put people ‘into their shoes’, in this case in a wheelchair, trying to navigate Melbourne and showing them how inaccessible certain areas are” he says.

“We found that really exciting, so we are exploring the possibility that we could use virtual reality for staff training, to be able to facilitate a bit of empathy from new staff to the people they provide support to, which, very obviously has powerful implications,” says Damien.
 
Damien says that the energy at Myriad was contagious and it was motivating to hear support for their plans to establish an assisted technology hub in Bundaberg.

Damien Tracey and The Honorable Innovation Minister Leeanne Enoch

“The single take-home for me was just the energy and the interest in pushing the envelope, pushing the boundaries. There was no one saying you can’t do that, they were saying how do we do that, how could we work on that together,” he says.

“Being engaged with people who are that energized, interested in innovation and believe that it can all happen in Queensland, and thankfully because of the Regional Innovation Showcase showing that it can happen in regional areas, was really exciting,” says Damien.

“There was no one that said it is going to be impossible to sustain this sort of thing in Bundaberg. Speaking to people at Myriad, everyone was positive, everyone was very supportive. The idea of de-centralising this kind of innovation into a regional area was celebrated,” he said.

Damien explains that the next steps for CLS are to strengthen bonds between the allied health and technology side of the organisation, while finalising the infrastructure that will allow the specialists to get together in the one space.

“Our vision is to have a site that brings people from a really diverse range of backgrounds together and provide them with the infrastructure and the space so that they can generate the next wave of products and services,” he says.

“While we are a not-for-profit organisation, we are keen to leverage the intellectual property generated in this space to ensure we can capture the value from new products and services,” he says.

“This approach is supported by our think global, act local mindset; a mindset that is fuelled by our desire to empower as many people with disability as we possibly can. We are confident that this approach will see us play a valued role in an international network of like-minded organisations,” he says.

“We might prototype a solution for one person in Bundaberg, and it might be a niche of one, but if we look globally there may be potentially 10,000 or even 100,000 people that may benefit” says Damien.

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