Hft: an app to improve independence

Hft: an app to improve independence

People with learning disabilities often have difficulty managing complex information. The charity Hft and software developer Maldaba have worked in partnership to further develop and pilot an app called Hear Me Now. The app provides a way for people to hold on to and make sense of the information they are given about their health and wellbeing.



Hft is a national charity providing services for people with learning disabilities to live the best life possible.

Funded as part of the NHS Digital Social Care Pathfinder programme, Hft and the developer, Maldaba, have spent the last year piloting an app called Hear Me Now.

The app has been designed to be used by people with learning disabilities and/or autism and can be downloaded on a tablet or phone. It can record important things about their lives in a variety of ways, such as photos, text, audio and videos.

The app can also help people with daily routines and communicate their likes, dislikes, needs and hopes to everyone involved in supporting them.

Lisa Hunt, Personalised Technology Coordinator at Hft, said:

“We wanted to come up with a way to empower people to communicate about themselves and their needs. For people who have difficulty with communication, it’s an important way for their voices to be heard.”


How it works

Image shows app boxesThe individual creates ‘boxes’ in the app, which are places to store things that are important to them. People can give the box a meaningful name and use a photo or image to identify the box. The most frequently used boxes remain at the top.

For example, a box may contain information about the person’s medications, which can be communicated in appointments with other health professionals.

In each box, people can add words, pictures, audio and video. The content can be created using the app or it can be content already stored on their phone or tablet.

The app can also store appointments and events. Reminders and alerts can be set to notify the person when these are due.

It can also record the details of friends, family and carers in the contacts facility. People can choose to share their boxes with anyone on their contacts lists. Contacts are notified by email and can log-on remotely and securely via a web browser. This allows friends and relatives to stay in touch and comment on what they see.

All written content can be spoken to the person by using the Text-To-Speech facility on the app. This helps people who find written communication difficult or would like information to be repeated.

Documents can be uploaded to the app, such as care plans or medical letters, which support staff can access. The information entered into the Hear Me Now app helps support workers, enabling them to gain an early understanding of the supported person and personalise care.


The project

The roll out the pilot phase of the app began in January 2020.

Lisa explained:

“Initially we wanted the roll out to be done face-to-face with workshops co-produced by the people we support, but we couldn’t do this due to the pandemic. So we trained support staff and others how to use the app remotely through MS Teams.”

Around 125 people with learning disabilities and or autism were given tablets with the app downloaded. They were supported by staff in eleven different services.



The benefits

The Bayswater Institute was commissioned to undertake independent evaluation of the project through interviews with staff and three questionnaires.

Detailed case accounts of people with learning disabilities who regularly used the app were also produced.

There were examples of people becoming more independent. The app allowed people to support the management of their diet, to follow routines needed to manage diabetes and one person was able to take a shower without a support working being present.

Survey respondents reported the benefits being:

  • better communication by or to people they support
  • more independence and engagement in decision making
  • more effective support by key support workers
  • improved care processes by care provider organisations
  • improved health and well-being for individuals.

Danny, one of the people that the charity supports, said he finds the app helpful for his spellings and he likes how the voice recordings read what things say. Danny likes to look at the information on the app and says the reminders are useful.

The charity is continuing to use the app with people who said they would like to keep using it. The team is also looking to expand the project if possible and encourage more people to trial the technology.


For more information

To find out more about the Hear Me Now app, visit www.hearmenowapp.com

For further information about the charity Hft, visit www.hft.org.uk

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