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This publication is dealing with the report of Ireland on experiences of user participation in R&D oriented work.

Introduction

Overall Ireland has a small manufacturing base with very few indigenously manufactured assistive technology products. The area with the most activitiy as regards user participation in R&D of ICT and assistive technology was under the European funded research programmes. A survey carried out by the Work Research Centre Ltd. shows that the situation with regard to user participation in R&D is very fragmented in Ireland. The most prominent area of activity with regard to the development of products and services for disabled and elderly people was under projects funded by European R&D programmes. A large number of the industrial companies contacted were only involved in the supply of assistive technology. In most cases this equipment was manufactured outside of Ireland and end-users were only involved when an adaptation was required to suit the special needs of a particular individual. Also in some cases the expert opinion of professionals working with disabled people is sought by people manufacturing goods and providing services, rather than the expressed opinions of the disabled user.

While user participation does take place in Ireland there are no systematic procedures in place for involving end-users in ICT or assistive tecnology product development. In the main, users were involved through the membership of user organisations and or institutions where tehy were looked after or resident. Where end-user participation does take place it is usually at the analysis/specification stage and the evaluation stage of products and services. It is notable that the majority of examples of end-user participation that were identified in this survey were in relation to disabled people and that very little was identified in relation to elderly people. Perhaps this is because most elderly people do not have any special needs in relation to many products and services and where they do these requirements are of elderly disabled people and are similar to those of disabled people.

During the course of survey no specific examples of user training aimed at empowering or qualifying individuals for user participation were identified. Where user training took place it tended to be on a once off basis at the testing or evaluation stage of R&D. Training at this stage took a pragmatic approach and the content was mostly about teaching or demonstrating to users how to use the product being tested.

Given Ireland's small manufacturing base it seems that there will be a small demand for guidance in the area of user participation in the R&D of assistive technology and mainstream products. With the large growth in the number of services offered to the public via telecommunications - telebanking, various Internet services such as on-line shopping, on-line support services etc. perhaps the sector that would benefit most from training in end-user participation in R&D in Ireland is the service sector and in particular the tele-service sector.

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