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Naidex National 2011

NEC, Birmingham, 5–7 April 2011

The market in technologies to assist independent living is both growing and diversifying. The demand for greater inclusiveness in workplaces and community facilities is matched by the shift towards placing healthcare in the home and the community rather than the clinical environment. At the same time, however, radical cuts to social service budgets and benefit payments mean that access to assistive technologies is increasingly mediated by private insurance or the voluntary sector rather than the public sector.

Naidex is the leading UK exhibition for assisted living products. The growing demand for a greater variety and a higher quality of such products is reflected in the fact that this year, for the first time, there are three Naidex events. In addition to Naidex National (which has run for 36 years) and the more recently established Naidex South (London, 19–20 October), there will be a Naidex Scotland (Glasgow, 14–15 September). This year’s Naidex National had over 118,000 visitors.

A distinctive feature of Naidex is its appeal to a wide range of customers: occupational therapists (OTs), specialist nurses, non-professional carers and service users. For exhibitors and visitors alike, Naidex is an inclusive event that combines a community feel with a high level of customer differentiation. The popularity of the event was reflected in the media coverage given to it this year, with BBC News 24 providing live coverage of the first day and Sky TV devoting a 30-minute programme to the exhibition.

 
Naidex National 2011

What’s going on

Roughly 10 per cent of people in the UK are registered as disabled. With major changes taking place in the funding of care for people with disabilities, affecting the access of millions of people to assistive technologies, current legislation was the issue everyone at Naidex National 2011 was talking about.

The CPD seminar programme included a presentation on how the Comprehensive Spending Review would affect OTs’ ability to source products and services for disabled people. This was so well attended that dozens of people stood or sat outside the lecture area to listen. Regarding the change, the speaker said: “In writing it’s nothing but in practice it’s everything,” since councils have the same duty of care towards disabled people, but are now more likely to fulfil it by referring them to charities or reclassifying them needing less support.

This year, the exhibition showed an increased focus on selling through private sector channels: high-end products for occupational health (such as customised office chairs) and consumer advertising of homecare products were much in evidence. A characteristic advertisement for a stairlift showed a well-dressed woman with the caption “Allowing Maria to be house-proud upstairs, as well as downstairs”. One supplier of specialist beds told us that private hospitals and hotels were his company’s entire market, the NHS being too resistant to change in its supplier relationships (or words to that effect).

Where the consistency of public sector provision is increasingly a difficult issue, many innovative companies are looking to meet specific needs through advanced technologies. In other words, instead of following the market in a ‘race to the bottom’ on price, many companies are stimulating new markets with products that contribute in unique ways to the lives of their users.

One step beyond

Naidex National 2011 highlighted the increasingly sophisticated use of electronic devices to assist perception, communication and motor control, as well as the development of user-centred technologies that are tailored to, or can be adapted by, the individual.

An important new product launched at Naidex was the ReWalk exoskeleton from Argo Medical Technologies: a computer-guided walking brace with sensors and motors that enables people with lower limb paralysis to walk and even climb stairs. (See page xx for more details.)

The New Product Showcase featured photographs of 115 products, all of which were on display (often highlighted with ‘New Product’ or ‘Updated product’ signs provided by Naidex) at the event. These included such products as a specialised rollator for children with brittle bone disease, a ‘working chair’ for patients recovering from a stroke, a self-turning air mattress, a gel-filled walking stick, a bariatric toilet and an all-terrain wheelchair.

One product that caught our attention was the Top-Braille from Welsh company Valleys Wordworks Ltd, a hand-held electronic reader that can be passed slowly over a printed text, line by line, and will translate each character into raised Braille dots on a fingertip pad. This historic device enables a blind person to read almost any printed book or other document.

The event’s New Product Award, voted on by visitors, was won by Jenry Ltd for its improved millie-mova chair adjustment device. For the first time, and reflecting the growing market importance of ‘soft’ consumer values, Naidex awarded a special prize for the most stylish product (chosen by a panel of independent judges). This was won by N&C Phlexicare for its fine-looking Freespace Shower Screen.

  
Top-Braille

Fusing horizons

The Inspiration Theatre featured a number of talks and demonstrations showing how new technologies and services can enhance the lives of people with disabilities. One presentation explored the value of Nintendo Wii virtual reality games in helping people with conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease and stroke to improve their motor skills. Integrated into therapy, the games can add variety, excitement and visual stimulus to repetitive activities. A choice of able-bodied and wheelchair-using avatars is now available.

A CPD seminar on the value of computer access for OTs and their clients noted the freedom that the Internet offers many people who face challenges in everyday activity and communication. The speaker discussed a range of technologies available to help people with disabilities bridge the ‘digital divide’, including voice recognition software, specialised computer accessories, software for keyboard adaptations and the potential of e-readers.

In the Communication Village, specialist RSLSteeper displayed its new iPhone and iPad applications that enable the user to control their home environment with a touchscreen. Smartbox displayed a range of infrared eye gaze communication systems, including one for typing. Pivotell showcased its new Minifone telecare device, which responds to a simple touch signal with a personalised alarm call to a response centre. These are typical of the new generation of ‘smart’ electronic devices that aid independence.

 
Inspiration Theatre

On the move

New features of Naidex National 2011 included the Innovation Zone, a special area for new suppliers and new products. Established features included the KideQuip Zone, dedicated to technologies for the support and education of children with special needs; and the Car Zone, a major showcase of wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

The economic and legislative pressures faced by the assistive technologies sector has, if anything, intensified the commitment of OTs and other care providers, as well as end users, to making the most of the diverse and highly specialised range of products available. As the health and social care market itself continues to diversify, suppliers of technologies for assisted living will identify their own distinctibve market segments – or even create new ones.

Tony Wright-Jones, Product Manager of N&C Phlexicare, commented: “Naidex National was particularly good this year because of the quality of visitors. The show is just getting better and better, and I’m extremely pleased with the high number of leads that we’ve received.”

 
Car Zone

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