Digital assistive technologies: inclusivity in data, design and deployment

The Royal Society is investigating the role of data and DigAT in helping people live independent, fulfilled lives.

Digital technologies are changing the human experience. Driven by data, and accelerated by applications like artificial intelligence (AI), they hold a great deal of promise for disabled people through improving the accessibility of work, recreation and community.

Digital assistive technology (DigAT) is sometimes called ‘emerging’ or ‘intelligent assistive technology’. It can include hardware or software, ranging from smart assistants to advanced hearing aids and automated lip reading. 

Despite many recent advances in data and AI, the opportunity for technology to improve lives of disabled people is largely unrealised.

The Royal Society is investigating the role of data and DigAT in helping people live independent, fulfilled lives. Broadly, we are asking: 

  • What is the state-of-the-art in DigAT science; what are the potential benefits and risks? 

  • How can we incentivise the development of transformative, sustainable, data-driven DigAT?  

  • What data currently exists on disability and how useful is this data for developing DigAT? 

  • What are the key trends and barriers in DigAT markets, and how do these map onto use cases or specific needs? 

Disability is not universally defined or experienced. The ability to live fully and independently can be contingent on a variety of contextual factors. We are taking an inclusive and user-centric approach. To do so, we are working with external research and advocacy organisations in creating an evidence base that centres the experience of DigAT users. We do not assume that techno-scientific solutions—whether for individuals, environments or for structural change—will necessarily be the best solutions. However, we recognise that inclusive technology development will ultimately benefit us all. 

This project is Chaired by Professor Sir Bernard Silverman FRS and is guided by our committee of experts:

  • Dr Vint Cerf ForMemRS (Google)
  • Professor Jacques Fleuriot (University of Edinburgh)
  • Dr Hamied Haroon* (University of Manchester)
  • Dr Louise Hickman (Minderoo Centre for Technology and Democracy)
  • Professor Catherine Holloway (Global Disability Innovation Hub)
  • Mr Prateek Madhav (AssisTech)
  • Professor Paul Upchurch* (University College London)
  • Professor Seralynne Vann* (Cardiff University)
  • Professor Mike Wald (University of Southampton)

*Royal Society Diversity and Inclusion Committee Disabled Scientists Subgroup

The Royal Society and Policy Connect workshop

The Royal Society and Policy Connect are hosting a workshop at 1pm – 3:30pm on Tuesday, 16 April 2024 at the Royal Society (6-9 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AG) with a virtual option via Zoom. The workshop will explore the technical, ethical, and user experience considerations relating to the use of smart home devices as an assistive technology for disabled people, with a focus on social care and independent living. Please register your interest in attending this workshop either virtually or in-person.

To learn more, share evidence, or to receive updates and notice of publications, please get in touch with Charise Johnson via