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Siri, Alexa, Google Home….voice activated assistants are becoming increasingly popular amongst the general public, but can these devices be used to support effective social work practice?

The use of technology to develop innovative practice is becoming increasingly creative - last year, Southend Borough Council invested £17,000 into a child-sized robot named Pepper to help them deliver social work services. The state-of-the-art “humanoid” can perceive and communicate human emotions and has been used by staff to support those affected by dementia, or those affected by complex disabilities.

But not every social work department needs a robot to join their team to be innovative.

What about the smaller, on-the-shelf consumer products, such as an Amazon Echo, or a Google Home device. Could they be used effectively?

Simply put, yes, they can.

Last year, Hampshire County Council began an innovative pilot where they have been using an Amazon Echo to enable people with severe disabilities to live independently in their own homes. Through the distribution of the devices, clients can not only check reminders to take medication, or see when a carer is due to arrive, but they can also benefit from reminders to stay hydrated or even receive suggestions of how they can keep fit.

On a more general level, the devices have been linked up with other forms of voice-activated technology (such as an Amazon Fire Stick) which has allowed people with limited or no mobility to operate a TV, adjust the temperature or even change the lights without having to use a remote control.

Another council successfully making use of voice-activated technology is Wigan Council.

The council has turned an empty bungalow into a “digital bungalow” to demonstrate to professionals how cutting-edge technology can be used to empower people to remain living at home independently.

In addition to the ways in which the Amazon Echo has been used by Hampshire County Council, the device has replaced the traditional alarm system for people living alone. Instead of pulling on a cord to signal an emergency to a control centre, the resident can simply use their voice to call for help.

The bungalow has also installed motion sensors, sensory lighting and even the latest face-recognition doorbell technology. By taking images of the person calling and sending them to a trusted third party (such as a family member) who can answer the doorbell remotely, vulnerable people can be better protected from bogus callers.

As these devices continue to become more powerful, yet remaining affordable, we can clearly see how technology will continue to transform social work practice, freeing up practitioner’s time to support those in need.

What do you think about these innovations in technology? Please let us know your thoughts using the comments box below.
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