Poseidon: EU tech project for those with Down's syndrome

At the start of May the BBC ran an article titled: “The struggle to find work when you have Down's syndrome”. This cited research from charity Mencap which shows that 65% of individuals with learning disabilities – “including, though not limited to, Down's syndrome - want to work, but fewer than 20% of those of working age are currently in employment”.

The article went on to highlight the various difficulties that these individuals face when trying to find employment, along with the other life-long issues they encounter. Now, like in all other areas of society, new technology might be able to help them thrive.

“We estimate that of EU’s 500 million citizens, about 375.000 live with Down’s syndrome,” says Terje Grimstad, CEO of Karde [Norwegian] and Project Manager for Poseidon, an EU research initiative due for completion in 2016 which aims to provide exactly this.

“The main idea with Poseidon is to make services so people with Down’s syndrome can live more independent lives and contribute more to the society,” he explains.

This came about because “one of our [Karde’s] employees, Gro Marit Rødevand, who is the mother of a young man with Down’s syndrome, met Professor Juan Augusto from Middlesex University,” at an AAL Forum in Eindhoven in 2012, explains Grimstad. “[Juan Augusto] is the father of a small boy with Down’s syndrome. And there the idea for the Poseidon project was born.”

Backed by EU funding, the technological infrastructure will blend virtual reality with components for tablets with an interactive table. This is a physical table that includes proximity sensors and has been in development at Fraunhofer IGD, a leading institute for applied research in visual computing in Germany.

This practical solution came about through community research. “We have investigated the needs and capabilities of persons with Down’s syndrome by getting responses from more than 400 caregivers in Germany, Norway and UK,” explains Grimstad. “We have also interviewed 10 persons with Down’s syndrome from each participating country.”

“This summer we will run a first pilot with three families in each country to test our ideas. In September and October we will run a larger test with 30-40 families in each country,” he adds.

Karde itself has a long history of activities where it provides services for people with dementia and learning disabilities. “Poseidon fits perfectly well into this range of activities,” he says. Of course, only time will tell how this all works out in practice.


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