B&Q dips toe into telecare waters

Last Autumn, Paul Gee, Chief Executive of the UK’s Telecare Services Association, got on the Soapbox and asked the question Tesco Telecare – How far away?

Well, it looks to me that the consumer-demand led future for telecare has already taken another step closer.

The UK’s largest home improvement retailer, B&Q, has just launched a new initiative called Living Made Easier. Over 500 products in its stores and online catalogue are stickered with a ‘Can do’ logo indicating that the product the person is looking at has been identified as making life easier for… everyone. (“To ensure that they can be used by as many people as possible” as B&Q puts it.) It’s a great example of inclusive design mentality in action and should, if it takes off, encourage more designers to consider the needs of older and less physically able people for products that are stylish but are also lightweight, easy to grip, easier to see, etc.

The Living Made Easier branding is an example of B&Q’s older person- and disabled person-friendly policies in action. The scheme features on its current website home page: www.diy.com

B&Q home page


When you follow the link you also find that B&Q has incorporated the DLF’s AskSARA self-assessment program!

AskSARA on B&Q site


That’s great thinking!

When you come across a product selected for the Living Made Easier branding online, it is clearly marked

B&Q description


and there are in-store brochures for people who do not find the items online.

B&Q brochure


Telecare gets a toe dipping

Yes, there is one product that edges its way into telecare territory. It is the Distress Alert System by Yale. A panic button auto-dials up to three pre-programmed numbers with a recorded message.

Yale Distress Alert System

What are the implications?

First, it will be interesting to see whether people receiving social services help by way of an individual budget [the UK Government wants councils to give people they help budgets to spend on their care, in place of providing their services] will opt to spend a one-off £45.98 of their budget on a system like Yale’s Distress Alert System rather than a more expensive telecare system with monthly costs, and put the money saved to other uses.

Second, if you work in social services, do your utmost to publicise B&Q’s Living made easier initiative to all council staff who come into contact with older and disabled people. If it is a roaring success B&Q will, no doubt, be encouraged to seek out new products to add. I have a few suggestions! Download the pdf version of the brochure if you want to see what is listed so far, then add your suggestions as a comment below and I will send them a list.

6 thoughts on “B&Q dips toe into telecare waters

  1. This is fantastic news and about time that large retailers are waking up to the needs of disabled people. I also love some of the style flourishes that many of the adaptations have. I would love to hear from an occupational therapist to see what they feel about grab rails with soap dishes in and the notion of disabled people fitting these things themselves adds even more interest to the item. I also wonder if things like professional assessments are really necessary or should we open things up to a market economy where freedom of choice is the rule of law. I suspect that as soon as people find themselves disabled by these contraptions the retailer might have second thoughts. It also begs the question of who is responsible if and when things go wrong… the retailer for selling thigns without any assessment or the purchaser for buying with no (telecare)awareness?

    As for the Yale safe and sound, it sounds safe enough as far as it goes but the main concern is the ability for people to push the button and configure other things to it in the future. It seems that this is a further argument for the need for greater interoperability.

    The last thing I would personally want is to have my mum rely on a autodialling base station unless it had some professional it would dial and who would answer, such as a call centre.

    I think that B&Q have made a real leap forward and I also suspect that the sales of these items might not be just given to disabled people. I can see many of the products being useful and stylish for many homes.

    So all in all a three quarter clap to B&Q. They have definitely started something, I await where it will lead.

  2. The wireless door chime with portable speakers can also be used as a call button to alert a carer who is in the house.

  3. This confirms that the technology is potentially very easy -the challenge is to build a reliable system around it which will give vulnerable people confidence that an alarm will quickly bring appropriate help (and not a plumber charging £50 for a call-out!).
    Are we confident that the radio receiver is Class 1 (rather than a cheap device used in security systems), and the auto-dialler will still work with the BT 21st century network? I suspect that we may see a lot of consumer “telecare” on the market very soon which will not be reliable and which may give the technology a bad name.

  4. Kevin, yes, the question is whether I would trust my personal safety to a totally automated system like the one from Yale. My first reaction was no, but I’m now questioning that reaction. I trust technology to work in many other aspects of life, although the trust may not build up until I have tested it out a few times. I suppose it would be possible to test this by just programming in a friend’s number.

    You pointed out on the recent BBC radio programme that community alarm systems developed at a time when it was not the norm to have a phone. That also meant that call centres were necessary, because clients did not have friends and family with phones to call, but with phone ownership being virtually universal, that no longer applies.

    My remaining reservations regarding this particular system are around the fact that there does not seem to be a fail-safe escalation. What happens if none of the three numbers respond, and how do you know?

  5. Steve, you are a better businessman than the chaps from Yale! Most of the stairlift manufacturers and installers have marketed a telephone link to their call centre to provide assistance in the event of an emergency for many years – so the “plumber on-call” arrangement may be commercially viable if the stair-lift example is any indication.
    My view is that we are now entering a phase of telecare service development where the quality of response may become more important than the technical detail of the equipment (subject, of course, to some standards that need to be rigorously enforced). The focus will therefore inevitably turn to the different models of call-handling centre that already exist from the small, local centre where the operators know most of their client group, through to the large national centre where objective performance indicators such as time to answer a call may be excellent, but at the expense of the personal touch, and all the benefits that this may bring in the event of an emergency. There’s probably room for local, regional and national call centres – but also a need to consider all the different models and how they may change to accommodate the need for visual interaction, and the safe handling, storage and interpretation of lots more data of a personal nature.

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