Making independence easy for people living with learning disabilities
AutonoMe develops technology to help people living with disabilities to lead independent lives. They use videos and an easy-to-use app to transform the lives of their users.
‘Independence is empowerment, it’s equality for people with learning disabilities’, says Will Britton, founder of AutonoMe. Will founded AutonoMe to solve a simple problem – people living with learning disabilities often find it difficult to live independent lives.
25% of people with disabilities report feeling a lack of control in their lives. Tasks like cooking meals, maintaining personal hygiene and cleaning a home can be difficult. Meanwhile squeezed budgets mean providing care and support 24 hours a day is hard.
‘As a society we could do a much better job of supporting people’s independence than we currently do’.
‘We’ve been doing learning disability care and support the same way for years and years. Decades even. It’s always been done the same way.’
To tackle this AutonoMe has created a large library of ‘how-to’ videos to guide people with learning disabilities through daily living tasks. A clever piece of technology means the videos are easily accessed. AutonoMe provide scannable tags, similar to barcodes. A tag can be put on a vacuum cleaner and scanned using the AutonoMe app to play a video explaining how to vacuum your house.
The app also includes a reminder function based around a person’s individual needs for independence. According to Will, ‘if a person forgets to put their bins out for recycling, we can time a notification to remind them to put their bins out at the right time’.
Importantly the whole process of using the technology is user-led, works 24-hours a day and doesn’t require the support of a carer.
The technology’s application is also flexible and can be used to support those living with dementia as well as learning disabilities.
How it all fits together
Neat fit solutions like this don’t appear out of nowhere. Will’s background, just like AutonoMe, is a unique proposition – an amalgamation of skills and career paths. A university degree and freelance career in video production; a frustrating year working in tech; fortuitously spotting a trial position to work with adults with learning disabilities at a local college.This combination of video, tech and working with people with learning disabilities fits together to create AutonoMe.
‘There was no golden stat or figure that made me realise encouraging independence was vital, it came through teaching and being with people with learning disabilities – understanding them, what they want to achieve in life and how we could create a platform to help them do this.’
Doing it differently
For Will, AutonoMe isn’t just about modern technology, it’s about creating tangible improvements in people’s lives.
AutonoMe is changing that. Video is a great medium for people with learning disabilities. It doesn’t require reading or writing skills, the instructions don’t make assumptions and the actions are easily replicated.
So what does success look like? ‘An ideal situation for us would technically be that people use the system and after X amount of time they wouldn’t need it anymore’.
Getting a model that makes it last
Working at a local college, Will saw that too often technology for people with learning disabilities was outdated or didn’t work as funding for a particular project had run out. According to Will, ‘that’s not a good model. People become quite reliant on the technology and when it disappears that actually causes anxiety.’
Keen to avoid this, developing a good business model was important. The whole project had to be self-sustaining.
Building a sustainable business model wasn’t easy. Will knew how to make technology that improves people’s lives, but admits, ‘I didn’t know anything about the business side of things’. Will went out of his way to find people who loved the idea and had the logistics and business experience that AutonoMe needed. And it’s led to growth.
AutonoMe work with local authorities, as well as individuals, and can prove the effectiveness of their product thanks to data tracking. For local authorities it makes sense says Will, ‘the idea is that it’s a really cost-effective way of teaching people independent living skills and they can access them 24/7 inside or outside of commissioning hours.’
Growing an idea and its impact
‘I was able to raise a substantial bit of money’, Will mentions. That money was the result of nine months hard-work, ‘if anyone asks funding is a full-time job’, according to Will, ‘it’s not easy at all’.
With the investment however, AutonoMe can start to grow to match Will’s ambition to revolutionize the way technology is used in the learning disability sector.
Much of the funding went into improving AutonoMe’s existing technology and the infrastructure to make sure the organisation was ready for expansion. ‘We had some big clients signing up, but we didn’t have the infrastructure of staff to support their needs’, says Will.
Already they are working with three local authorities in the south west to help roll out their technology.
Whether it’s forgetting to lock your door at night or take out the bins in the morning, feeling a lack of control causes anxiety for many people. AutonoMe changes that by giving people a sense of independent living. Will puts it best, ‘independence is equality for people with learning disabilities’.