Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Vodafone IoT helps with learning disabilities

Steve Rogerson
August 6, 2019

An initiative connecting supported living homes using IoT technology has been launched by Vodafone and Mencap, a UK learning disability charity. The Connected Living project uses technology to enhance the quality of life for people with learning disabilities, as well as providing support workers with tools for providing personalised care.
Co-designed by Vodafone, support workers and people with learning disabilities living in Mencap’s supported living services, Connected Living was piloted successfully over 12 months in locations across Hampshire, Sussex, Somerset, Cornwall, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Suffolk.
The collaborative partnership has involved people with a learning disability and support workers and service managers. It combines Vodafone’s expertise in IoT and connectivity with Mencap’s experience of improving the quality of life for people with a learning disability.
The pilot focused on how to make everyday activities – such as household tasks, time planning and socialising – easier. Technologies, including a range of user friendly, intuitive IoT enabled devices, were installed in Mencap Supported Living homes controlled by a bespoke app, called Vodafone MyLife.
Unlike standalone devices including GPS trackers or fall detectors, the MyLife app offers a simple user interface that is integrated and accessible via a tablet. It gives Mencap’s clients control of their smart devices, while also enabling their support workers to have remote access. In addition, the app allows users to create visual guides for everyday tasks and a host of other features such as:

  • My Room – enables residents to manage smart plugs, smart locks and smart lights via the app.
  • How To – allows residents and support workers to create visual guides for everyday tasks.
  • My Day –a personalised diary management tool that enables users to create daily reminders for everyday tasks.
  • My Talk – provides those with speech problems another way to communicate, via personalised images, text and a speech function.
  • Call Support – allows prompt remote support via a digital panic button that allows two-way video calling between residents and support workers with one touch.
  • To Do List – enables tenants to create easy to manage to do lists to encourage them to carry out and tick off tasks throughout the day.
  • My Front Door – enables residents to answer their front door and check who is calling from anywhere in the house.
Other IoT technologies trialled include activity sensors, which detect unexpected movement and alert support workers, and smart locks that can be used to provide residents privacy and a sense of security in their own rooms.
“I am incredibly proud of this project and excited by what it means for the way people with learning disabilities will be able to live their lives in the future,” said Helen Lamprell, general counsel and external affairs director for Vodafone in the UK. “It has been developed in partnership between Vodafone, Mencap and, most importantly of all, those with learning disabilities themselves. The project aims to give those living with a learning disability greater independence and a better quality of life. It really demonstrates the power of technology to change people’s lives for the better.”
Mencap works to support people with a learning disability, their families and carers by fighting to change laws, improve services and access to education, employment and leisure facilities. Mencap supports thousands of people with a learning disability to live their lives the way they want.
“There are more than 1.4 million people with a learning disability in the UK and they face inequalities in every area of their life,” said Steve Baker, operations director from Mencap. “They are more likely to live in poverty, be isolated, less likely to be in employment and often don’t have access to technology, which is a barrier in itself. Day-to-day tasks, which many of us take for granted, can be a real struggle. Technology can provide simple solutions to enable them to take control and have greater independence and that really makes a difference.”
He said Mencap was committed to improving the lives of people with a learning disability.
“We don’t want them to be left out and we know that in an increasingly digital world, we need to be innovative about our approach,” he said. “It was important to us to make this a truly collaborative project – that the people we support ended up with something truly bespoke that gave them exactly what they needed. This wasn’t about off-the shelf tech so, as world leaders in IoT, Vodafone was the perfect partner. The most rewarding thing has been to see it working and the life changing impact it can have for the people we support and their support workers, who do such an amazing and challenging job.”
Adam, who has Down’s syndrome and lives in Mencap’s Loughborough supported living service said: “The technology is really helpful, the How To makes me feel clever. I can now cook using my tablet; for the first time I made dinner by myself. My Day says wake up at 9.15am and there’s a photo to remind me to shower at 10.30am. I now shower on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. I use the Shopping List to help do my shopping to make sure I get everything. It is really easy. In my bedroom I can also play with the lights and with the colours and the brightness. You can put it blue, red, purple. I like the blue one best because it is my football team Chelsea FC’s colours. My housemate Matt, he likes to disco and he changes the colours so we can have a boogie.”
Sophie Baldry is a support worker for Martyn and Ashley at Mencap’s home in Basingstoke. She says she’s “really proud” of both of them and how they’ve adapted to the new technology.
“The Connected Living project has been brilliant for both Martyn and Ashley,” she said. “It’s been great to see them grow throughout the project. The MyLife tool has helped them both establish a good daily routine and has helped them develop a level of independence they simply didn’t think they would ever have. The small tasks we usually take for granted mean everything to them. I’ve been involved the whole way through and the Vodafone team have been amazing; every bit of feedback got taken on board. The app is really useful and practical and the people I support find it very easy to use.”
A learning disability is a reduced intellectual ability that can cause problems with everyday tasks, for example shopping and cooking, or travelling to new places. It affects someone for their whole life. A learning disability is not a mental illness or a learning difficulty, such as dyslexia.
People with a learning disability can take longer to learn new things and may need support to develop new skills, understand difficult information and engage with other people. The level of support someone needs is different with every individual. For example, someone with a severe learning disability might need much more support with daily tasks than someone with a mild learning disability.