My first forage into understanding the power of technology for good came on leaving university as a slightly older graduate at the beginning of the '90s. By that time word processers had replaced typewriters and I was pleased to get involved with teaching women returners how to use this new tool to give them a fighting chance in the job market. Then as a fundraiser, I learnt how the lives of children with disabilities don't have to be restricted; give them the right tools and they can achieve their potential, whatever that might be. I seized the opportunity at Lifelites thinking it was obvious to link the power of technology to provide the opportunities terminally ill children with disabilities in hospices wouldn't otherwise have.
And we've come a long way since 2006 - but then so has technology.
The children we help often have profound disabilities - some have difficultly controlling their movements, others are less cognitively able and many find it difficult to speak. But Lifelites can change all that. Recent advances in technology are enabling dreams to become a reality and everything we do is aimed at helping these children - whatever their abilities - to join in and take part.
Wherever you may live in the British Isles, there are children being supported by Lifelites because we have a magical technology project at every baby and children's hospice. Our typical package includes items like touch screen computers, games consoles which work through sensing movements, special iPads with drop proof covers, and software that makes it possible for the children to be creative, to communicate and control something themselves. Very importantly, we make sure that the equipment we provide is portable so that even if a child cannot get out of bed, the equipment can be taken to them.
An amazing piece of equipment is the "magic carpet" which projects an image onto the floor which the children can interact with. It gives them the chance to escape the confines of their condition and to embrace a world of make-believe, flying an aeroplane, splashing in the sea or playing football.
We also provide software that enables those who can only move their heads to use a computer. But sometimes the only part of their body they can move is their eyes so we also provide cutting edge technology called Eyegaze. Eyegaze enables children to access a computer through a sensor which tracks their eye movements, enabling them to move the cursor around the screen. Through Eyegaze, children whose carers and families thought they were unable to communicate at all, can now do so - they can tell their carers what they would like for breakfast, when they are thirsty, they can explore new worlds and can even, for the first time, tell their parents that they love them. It means that these children can enter and stay involved in the world around them for as long as it is possible.
But we do not just provide the equipment and walk away: we consult with the staff and children to find out what would be most useful for them; we constantly research the best solutions and make hospice staff aware of what is possible; we raise the funds to provide it, we install it; we train the hospice staff in how to use it, we commit to maintaining it in good order and we aim to replace every four years.
With the addition of exciting new items like Eyegaze and the Magic Carpet this now costs around £50,000 for each hospice every four years. This means that we need to raise £12,500 for each of our 50 projects or over £600,000 every year.
The hospices themselves simply could not afford to do what we do. Without Lifelites these children, for whom every second counts, would miss out on the opportunities which new technology can bring. Because we look after the equipment, hospice staff can concentrate on doing what they do best; caring for the children and their families. What we provide comes at no cost to the hospice and does not detract in any way from their fundraising.
David Strudley, chief executive of Acorns children's hospices tells people: "Whatever the problem, nothing seems to be too difficult for Lifelites to solve for us or with us. As technology moves on, so does Lifelites. Our children - however severely disabled - are able to use the equipment for themselves. It does not matter that a child cannot communicate in the traditional way anymore - non-verbal communication is not a problem. Lifelites has helped us to discover better ways of looking after our children."
Anyone can support their local Lifelites project. For more information please go to www.lifelites.org or give me a call on 0207 440 4200.
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