€9m fund launched to enhance disability research

Programme aimed at creating technologies to enhance lives of people with autism and intellectual disabilities

EU commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn and Theresa Crotty at yesterday’s launch in Dublin. Photograph: Paul Sherwood

EU commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn and Theresa Crotty at yesterday’s launch in Dublin. Photograph: Paul Sherwood

Fri, May 16, 2014, 01:00


A major new research programme aimed at creating new technologies to enhance the lives of people with autism and intellectual disabilities has been launched.

The €9 million project will involve scientists, engineers and health care professionals coming together with carers and families to develop ways of enabling people with disabilities to communicate, work and learn.

The wide-ranging programme will involve dozens of projects such as using computer facial recognition software to teach people with autism how to recognise facial expressions and develop distinctions between faces and objects.

Another project will harness the use of “eye gaze” technology, which allows people with limited mobility to track and move objects with their eye on a computer screen.

For the next five years, the programme will provide 40 fellowships to experienced researchers in the field of assistive technologies and behavioural sciences, applied to autism and intellectual disability. Organisers say it is the largest research programme of its kind in Europe.

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the EU commissioner for research, innovation and s cience, launched the programme yesterday. It is being co-funded by the European Union and Respect, a charity linked to the Daughters of Charity Service in the Dublin area.

The research will involve all of the universities on the island of Ireland, as well as the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), Dublin, and Tralee Institute of Technology.

US universities including Michigan State University and the University of Massachusetts will also participate in the research programme, along with the Daughters of Charity disability support services.

Ms Geoghegan-Quinn said assisted technologies had the potential to transform the lives of people with disabilities. “The challenges posed by autism and intellectual disability are multifaceted, encompassing several sectors . . . So this means the solutions should be multidisciplinary, spanning the whole range of action from basic research to improve our knowledge to translating that knowledge into better care and social inclusion of people with autism and intellectual disability,” she said.

Prof Brian Harvey of the RCSI said the research provided an opportunity to pool the resources of Irish universities with academics from the US in the best interests of people with autism and other disabilities.