Therapists and AT Professionals

Assistive technology (AT) is a relative new field of expertise and falls within the broad area of disability services. Very few people working in assistive technology started their career with AT in mind, many started in a profession and then chose to specialise in AT within their broader field (whether by design or chance).

The UK has limited opportunities for dedicated or advanced career based studies in the field of assistive technology, however, many professionals in related fields increase their AT knowledge by attending specialist short courses, workshops, conferences, and on-the-job research and training.

The main career areas are:

Therapists and Healthcare Professionals

  • Occupational Therapists (OT)
  • Speech and Language Therapists (SLT)
  • Physiotherapists (PT)
  • Healthcare Scientists (engineers and technologists within the NHS)
    • Clinical Scientists (CS)
    • Clinical Engineers (CE)
    • Clinical Technologists (CT)
    • Biomedical Engineer (BME)
    • Rehabilitation Engineers (RE)
  • Nursing and Rehabilitation Specialists
  • Therapy Assistants

Engineering and Technology Professionals

  • Design and development engineers
  • Software engineers
  • Product specialists and sales personnel
  • Private sector consultants
  • Assistive Technology Assessor/Trainer
  • Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Specialists

Education Sector

  • Teachers and Higher Education Lecturers
  • Special Educational Needs (SEN) Teachers
  • University Disability Officers
  • Academics/Researchers
  • ICT Specialists and support staff
  • Teaching Assistants

The list above does not include doctors and medical professionals working in physiological sciences, such as, ophthalmologists, audiologists, neurophysiology and orthopaedic consultants. Their primary role will be medical diagnosis and intervention as part of a multi-disciplinary team for specific patients, which may include AT provision.

Also not listed above are some jobs, often in Social Services, that may have some element of involvement with AT when dealing with clients, such as care providers, social workers, and housing officers.

Professional Status

Assistive Technology does not have a protected status. Any person can give themselves a job title such as Assistive Technologist, Assistive Technology Specialist, Assistive Technology Professional, or Assistive Technology Consultant etc. Some may be highly knowledgeable and experienced within the field while others may have limited knowledge and/or a narrow area of specialism. There is currently no UK legislation to regulate and protect these job titles.

Most healthcare professionals, engineers, and educators such as those in the list above will normally belong to a professional organisation where the professional title is protected by law. Each member is expected to abide the guidelines for professional conduct and to undergo continuing professional development (CPD). The person will usually be listed on a statutory register, conformation of membership status can be obtained from the relevant professional organisation or professional register such as the Health and Care Professions Council.

Job Descriptions (relating to assistive technology)

Listed below are brief descriptions of the main roles undertaken by professionals in relation to aspects of the job involving assistive technology. For a more comprehensive understanding of the full professional roles visit the associated professional institute/organisation, the main ones are listed at the bottom of each job description.

It is usual that complexed disability needs assessments are undertaken by multi-disciplinary teams involving professionals and specialists across relevant fields, including local therapists and carers, this enables the widest knowledge and experience base to be utilised, helping to improve provision and 'best fit' maximising the potential benefits to the assistive technology user.

Occupational Therapist (OT)

The role of an OT involves the evaluation of body movement and physical capabilities including fine motor and gross motor skills, touch and sensory perception, posture and positioning, and analysis of the environment, user needs, and access methods when considering provision of assistive technology.

Professional Organisations
British Association of Occupational Therapists and College of Occupational Therapists www.cot.co.uk
Health and Care Professions Council www.hcpc-uk.org

Speech and Language Therapist (SLT)

The role of an SLT is to evaluate disabilities affecting speech and language, including swallowing disorders. This will involve assessing the person’s communication abilities and needs in order to identify suitable Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) options with appropriate vocabulary. As an example, device selection and communication package set-up of a Voice Output Communication Aid (VOCA) using symbol based grids for a child that has limited vocabulary and/or is unable to spell.

Professional Organisations
The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists www.rcslt.org
Health and Care Professions Council www.hcpc-uk.org

Physiotherapists (PT)

Physiotherapists help treat and manage physical problems and to restore movement and function, adopting a holistic approach to disability and rehabilitation. They may work in a number of areas such as neurology (including Stroke), long-term conditions, and care for the elderly, looking at movement and exercise as well as manual therapy to improve function. Working as part of a multidisciplinary team they may work closely with OT’s to evaluate seating, positioning, and mobility and to look at a persons’ posture and movement to find the best position, or adaptation, for the provision of assistive technology for optimal access.

Professional Organisations
The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy www.csp.org.uk
Health and Care Professions Council www.hcpc-uk.org

Healthcare Scientists (HCS) working within the NHS

The term Healthcare Scientist is used by the NHS to cover a broad staff grouping of scientists, engineers, and technologists, the title is intended to encompass the area of scientific related jobs rather than use the grandiose title implying that all people within this grouping are actual scientists, although some are.

The engineering roles and specialisms vary but usually follow the fields of engineering described in the Engineering and Technology Professionals section (see below) but with a focus on engineering within health care and medical equipment.

Clinical Scientist is a protected title registered with the HCPC; following graduation these engineers have undergone further formal training within the NHS, regulated by IPEM, and tend to hold more senior engineering roles, often with supervisory and managerial duties.

Clinical Technologists and a variety of other job titles, such as Rehabilitation Engineers, are engineers and technologists working mainly in medical physics, rehabilitation engineering, and clinical engineering applied to health care. Most will belong to (be members of) professional institutes such as IPEM and IET, there is also The Register of Clinical Technologists (RCT), integrated with IPEM, that is a register accredited by the Professional Standards Authority.

Professional Organisations
Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) www.hcpc-uk.org
The Register of Clinical Technologists (RCT) www.therct.org.uk
Engineering Council www.engc.org.uk
Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine (IPEM) www.ipem.ac.uk
The Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) www.theiet.org
Institute of Mechanical Engineering (IMechE) www.imeche.org

Engineering and Technology Professionals

Engineering covers a broad spectrum of careers, some engineers and technologists specialise in specific areas such as software engineering (e.g. computer software and apps development) while others are multi-skilled across a number of fields such as mechanical and electronic engineering.

Engineers and technologists working in assistive technology may specialise in different areas, from assistive technology research and development to being service or clinic based working with individual clients. Engineers and technologists usually work as part of a multidisciplinary team and may be involved from the initial client assessment or at any stage from assessment to equipment delivery and client support.

Engineers bring analytical skills and a practical approach to problem solving and utilise engineering principles and processes at all levels of assistive technology provision, whether it is identifying appropriate equipment off-the-shelf, making adaptions, designing and manufacturing bespoke solutions, or delivery, installation, maintenance and training.

Professional Organisations
Engineering Council www.engc.org.uk
The Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) www.theiet.org
Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine (IPEM) www.ipem.ac.uk
The Chartered Institute of IT (BCS) www.bcs.org
Institute of Mechanical Engineering (IMechE) www.imeche.org

Education and Teaching Professionals

Education professionals have important roles in both multidisciplinary teams during an assessment and within the educational setting. Assessments require good understanding of a student’s characteristics and capabilities in relation to education and technology in accessing the curriculum and academic performance. The education professional (e.g. SEN Teacher) should also have knowledge, skills, and competences to support students with the use of assistive technology in an educational and supportive environment setting.

Professional Organisations
The College of Teachers www.collegeofteachers.ac.uk