WHO and UNICEF have launched the first Global Report on Assistive Technology. Read here to know more about Assistive Technology and its importance.
The first Global Report on Assistive Technology (GReAT) has been launched on 16th May 2022 by The World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
The report, produced in collaboration with UNICEF’s Office of Research – Innocenti, shares evidence-based best practice examples and 10 key actionable recommendations on improving access to assistive technology for every child.
The GReAT report was developed in response to the World Health Assembly resolution WHA71.8 on improving access to assistive technology adopted in May 2018. The global impact of the WHO-UNICEF Global Report on Assistive Technology will be unprecedented.
The Global Report recognizes assistive technology and enabling environments as a precondition for people in need to realize their human rights, and shares evidence-based best practice examples and 10 key actionable recommendations on improving access to assistive technology, for everyone, everywhere.
Global Report on Assistive Technology (GReAT)
The Global Report on Assistive Technology presents evidence for the first time on the global need for and access to assistive products and provides a series of recommendations to expand availability and access, raise awareness of the need, and implement inclusion policies to improve the lives of millions of people.
The current report supports the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and making universal health coverage (UHC) inclusive and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Highlights of the report
The report notes that-
- The number of people in need of one or more assistive products is likely to rise to 3.5 billion by 2050, due to population aging and the prevalence of non-communicable diseases rising across the world.
- The report also highlights the vast gap in access between low- and high-income countries.
- An analysis of 35 countries reveals that access varies from 3% in poorer nations to 90% in wealthy countries.
- Affordability is a major barrier to access
- A survey of 70 countries featured in the report found large gaps in service provision and trained workforce for assistive technology, especially in the domains of cognition, communication, and self-care.
The report makes recommendations for concrete action to improve access, including:
- Improve access within education, health, and social care systems
- Ensure availability, safety, effectiveness, and affordability of assistive products
- Enlarge, diversify and improve workforce capacity
- Actively involve users of assistive technology and their families
- Increase public awareness and combat stigma
- Invest in data and evidence-based policy
- Invest in research, innovation, and an enabling ecosystem
- Develop and invest in enabling environments
- Include assistive technology in humanitarian responses
- Provide technical and economic assistance through international cooperation to support national efforts.
What is Assistive technology?
Assistive technology is an umbrella term covering the systems and services related to the delivery of assistive products and services.
Assistive technology is products, equipment, and systems that enhance learning, working, and daily living for persons with disabilities.
Assistive technology (AT) is any item, piece of equipment, software program, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of persons with disabilities.
A few examples of Assistive technology are:
- Low-tech: communication boards made of cardboard or fuzzy felt.
- High-tech: special-purpose computers.
- Hardware: prosthetics, mounting systems, and positioning devices.
- Computer hardware: special switches, keyboards, and pointing devices.
- Computer software: screen readers and communication programs.
- Inclusive or specialized learning materials and curriculum aids.
- Specialized curricular software.
- Electronic devices, wheelchairs, walkers, braces, educational software, power lifts, pencil holders, eye-gaze and head trackers, and much more.
Assistive technology helps people who have difficulty speaking, typing, writing, remembering, pointing, seeing, hearing, learning, walking, and many other things. Different disabilities require different assistive technologies.
Importance of AT
According to WHO, globally, more than 1 billion people need 1 or more assistive products.
With an aging global population and a rise in non-communicable diseases, more than 2 billion people will need at least 1 assistive product by 2030, with many older people needing 2 or more.
Today, only 1 in 10 people in need have access to assistive products.
Assistive technology enables people to live healthy, productive, independent, and dignified lives, and to participate in education, the labor market, and civic life.
Assistive technology reduces the need for formal health and support services, long-term care, and the work of caregivers.
Without assistive technology, people are often excluded, isolated, and locked into poverty, thereby increasing the impact of disease and disability on a person, their family, and society.
Assistive technology can have a positive impact on the health and well-being of a person and their family, as well as broader socioeconomic benefits. For example:
- Proper use of hearing aids by young children leads to improved language skills, without which a person with hearing loss has severely limited opportunities for education and employment.
- Manual wheelchairs increase access to education and employment while reducing healthcare costs due to a reduction in the risk of pressure sores and contractures.
- Assistive technology can enable older people to continue to live at home and delay or prevent the need for long-term care.
- Therapeutic footwear for diabetes reduces the incidence of foot ulcers, preventing lower limb amputations and the associated burden on health systems.
The global need for assistive technology
Across the globe, many people who need assistive technology do not have access to it. Examples of the unmet global need for assistive technology include:
- 200 million people with low vision do not have access to assistive products for low-vision.
- 75 million people need a wheelchair and only 5% to 15% of those in need have access to one.
- 466 million people globally experience hearing loss. Hearing aid production currently meets less than 10% of the global need.
- Huge workforce shortages in assistive technology: over 75% of low-income countries have no prosthetic and orthotics training programs. Countries with the highest prevalence of disability-related health conditions tend to be those with the lowest supply of health workers skilled in the provision of assistive technology (as low as 2 professionals per 10 000 population).
Challenges to accessing assistive technology
Policy: Very few countries have a national assistive technology policy or program.
- In many countries, access to assistive technology in the public sector is poor or non-existent. Even in high-income countries, assistive products are often rationed or not included in health and welfare schemes, leading to high out-of-pocket payments by users and their families.
- For example, it is a common policy in several European countries for the state to provide older people with only 1 hearing aid, even though most people with age-related hearing loss require 2 hearing aids to function.
Products: The assistive products industry is currently limited and specialized, primarily serving high-income markets.
- There is a lack of state funding, nationwide service delivery systems, user-centered research and development, procurement systems, quality and safety standards, and context-appropriate product design.
Provision: In high-income countries services are often stand-alone and not integrated.
- People are forced to attend multiple appointments at different locations, which are costly and add to the burden on users as well as caregivers, and on health and welfare budgets.
- In many low- and middle-income countries, national service delivery for assistive products does not exist. Those who can afford them buy assistive products direct from a pharmacy, private clinic, or workshop.
- People from the poorer sectors of society must rely on erratic donations or charity services, which often focus on delivering large quantities of low-quality or used products.
Personnel: Trained health personnel are essential for the proper prescription, fitting, user training, and follow-up of assistive products.
Without these key steps, assistive products are often of no benefit or abandoned, and they may even cause physical harm (as is the case of providing wheelchairs without pressure relief cushions for people with spinal injury).
Assistive technology and Universal health coverage
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development places good health and well-being at the center of a new development vision.
It emphasizes universal health coverage (UHC) to ensure sustainable development for all so that everyone everywhere can access the health services needed without facing financial hardship.
Universal Health Coverage can be advanced inclusively only if people can access quality assistive products when and where they need them.
Assistive technology in India
The World Bank estimates that there are anywhere between 40 to 80 million Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) in India.
One in twelve households has a family member with a disability.
However, due to low literacy levels, social stigma, and lack of opportunities, PwDs remain the most excluded members of Indian society.
Additionally, India lacks a vibrant market of assistive technologies (AT) and inclusive solutions that cater to, and empower PwDs.
The Indian government has rolled out several schemes for assisting the disabled:
Assistance to Disabled Persons Scheme: The ADIP Scheme is in operation since 1981 with the main objective to assist the needy disabled persons in procuring durable, sophisticated, and scientifically manufactured, modern, standard aids and appliances that can promote their physical, social and psychological rehabilitation by reducing the effects of disabilities and enhance their economic potential. Assistive devices are given to PwDs to improve their independent functioning and to arrest the extent of disability and occurrence of secondary disability.
Accessible India campaign Creation of Accessible Environment for PwDs: Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD) launched the Accessible India Campaign (Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan) as a nationwide campaign for achieving universal accessibility for Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) in 2015. It has three important verticals, namely – the Build Environment, the transportation sector, and the ICT ecosystem.
DeenDayal Disabled Rehabilitation Scheme: The approach of this Scheme is to provide financial assistance to voluntary organizations to make available the whole range of services necessary for the rehabilitation of persons with disabilities including early intervention, development of daily living skills, education, skill-development oriented towards employability, training and awareness generation.
National fellowship for students with disabilities: In this, the University Grants Commission (UGC) on behalf of the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD), Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment invites applications from eligible candidates for National Fellowship for Persons with Disabilities (NFPwD)
The International Day of Persons with Disabilities is observed on December 3 every year.
Disability inclusion is an essential condition for upholding human rights, sustainable development, and peace and security. The global crisis of COVID-19 is deepening pre-existing inequalities, exposing the extent of exclusion, and highlighting that work on disability inclusion is imperative. People with disabilities—one billion people— are one of the most excluded groups in our society and are among the hardest hit by this crisis in terms of fatalities.
Hence, more initiatives and facilities should be implemented for persons with disabilities to promote true inclusive growth globally.
Also read: Rights of Persons with Disabilities
-Article written by Swathi Satish