Spotlight on…John Owuor

Category: Spotlight on Published: 26 August 2016


Meet Dr John Owuor, an ASSISTID  Fellow who is researching the role that Assistive Technologies play in the social inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities in Ireland. John, who has a background in public health, has previously worked in research, health promotion and social programmes in UK and Sweden. We asked John a few questions about his research.


1) Can you tell us simply, in 3 sentences what your research is about?
I will be exploring how Assistive Technologies (ATs) can be used to enhance social inclusion of people with intellectual disability (ID) in the context of the ongoing deinstitutionalization of care for people with disabilities in Ireland. Working collaboratively with Daughters of Charity (DOC) services and other relevant stakeholders, the project will explore what, why and how the use of relevant AT can improve social inclusion and wellbeing of people with ID.  The aim is to generate evidence for policy, design and practice recommendations on how appropriate use of relevant AT can enhance social inclusion of people with ID.

2) Why should we be interested in this issue?
This project is of interest because previous research has shown that people with ID are highly vulnerable to social exclusion and stigma.  For decades, the care for people with ID in developed nations such as Ireland has been largely institutionalized. However, research has shown that institutional care enhances social exclusion of people with ID. The Irish government therefore sees deinstitutionalization of care for people with disabilities as part of the process of enhancing their social inclusion. To this end, the Irish government aims for a complete shift from institutional care to community care for people with disabilities by 2030. The deinstitutionalization of care for people with ID in Ireland is taking place at an opportune time when the society is awash with numerous technological possibilities.
Access to and use of appropriate technologies can therefore play a vital role in enhancing inclusion and wellbeing of people with ID in the communities as they become more independent, as opposed to isolated institutional care where all services were provided in one place. But very little is known about the current level of use of such technologies or the needs of people with ID that can be met by access to and use of the right technologies in Ireland as well as what role such AT may contribute towards their social inclusion. This project aims to contribute to this knowledge gap.

3) What does it mean to your research career to be an ASSISTID Marie Curie Fellow?
Being an ASSISTID Marie Curie Fellow means boundless opportunities for my professional networking and to learn from the enormous pool of expertise within DOCTRID network.  It is also an opportunity for me to contribute to the body of knowledge on social inclusion of one of the most vulnerable social groups in the society at large, not just in Ireland. This fellowship builds on my research interest on issues of inequality, social inclusion of and access to services by marginal population groups. Overall, this fellowship will provide me with the opportunity to establish solid research career foundation, through research and numerous training opportunities, as I work towards being a global expert in the area of social inclusion and access to services by people with disabilities and other vulnerable populations.

4) What do you hope the impact of your work will be?
This work will suggest policy and practice recommendations. It will provide insights into policy provisions, or lack of it, on access to AT by people with ID in Ireland and potentially globally. It will also inform design of selected AT to merge the needs of users with ID with AT development. The project will provide knowledge on how effective use of selected AT can improve daily lives of people with ID. The project will also highlight gaps for further research into how effective use of appropriate AT can enhance social inclusion of people with ID and disabilities in general into the society.

5) What is the most frequently asked question which people ask you about your work?
The question I have been asked a lot is what I mean by assistive technology (AT). The answer I tend to give is a simplified definition of AT as the use of technology to aid the daily life of people with ID.  Drawing from DOC, AT are a wide spectrum of devices, technological aids, and practices whose main objective is to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities.  However, I intend to do a scoping review to identify what ATs are currently used, by who and for what purpose in DOC services and in other settings as well, and then pilot a selected AT to explore how it can aid social inclusion of users with ID. By the end of this project, I will have specifics on which AT and how it can enhance social inclusion of people with ID in the Irish context and potentially in other similar settings. 

6) Tell us something which might surprise us?
It may not be a surprise to some, but I think the surprise that may emanate from this project is how much people with ID have been left behind. Most people in the general population use their mobile phones for example to plan their trips, manage their budgets, track their friends and family members, meet and establish relationships, order grocery, set reminders for meetings, and the list is endless. Things like parking aids in cars are not viewed as assistive technologies because AT is generally linked to disabilities. It may well be a surprise that AT solutions that may assist people with ID to meaningfully become part of their communities are those that to the general population are common place or outdated.