Context: A billion people globally are currently estimated to be in need of assistive technology (AT); this is projected to double by 2050. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) jointly launched the first Global Report on Assistive Technology (GReAT) recently.
What is assistive technology?
- These may include any item, piece of equipment, software programme or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of persons with disabilities.
- These aids could also be “physical” products such as wheelchairs, eyeglasses, hearing aids, prostheses, walking devices or continence pads; “digital” such as software and apps that support communication and time management; or adaptations to the physical environment, for example, portable ramps or grab-rails.
- Different disabilities require different assistive technologies, and these are designed to help people who have difficulty speaking, typing, writing, remembering, seeing, hearing, learning, or walking.
Core concerns on effective access to assistive technology
There are two core concerns:
- 90 per cent of those who need assistive technology do not have access to it.
- The inclusion of assistive technology into health systems was essential for progress toward the targets in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) relating to Universal Health Coverage (UHC).
The GReAT report
- It draws upon surveys conducted in 20 countries.
- These indicate that the proportion of the population currently using at least one assistive product ranges from less than 3 per cent to about 70 per cent.
- Those reporting that they use or need at least one assistive product range from about 10 per cent to nearly 70 per cent; the extent to which these needs are met varies from about 2 per cent to nearly 90 per cent.
Universal assistive technology coverage
- It implies that everyone, everywhere receives the AT that they need without financial or any other hardship.
The barriers to access and coverage
- In the context of AT, these are best understood when seen from the following five parameters.
- This is related to the age, gender, type of functional difficulty, location and socioeconomic status of those in need of AT.
- The range, quality, affordability and supply of assistive products continue to pose considerable challenges.
- Quality and standard issues such as safety, performance and durability are key concerns.
- Repairing, refurbishing, and reusing assistive products can be faster and more cost-effective than purchasing new ones.
- The information and referral systems remain complex and services are not available across all geographies and populations.
- The range, quantity and quality of assistive products procured and provided, as well as the efficiency of delivered services, remain below par.
- The workforce gaps are not just about numbers but also about adequate training and education too.
- A survey of more than 60 countries reported that they have at least one government ministry or authority responsible for access to AT.
- Almost 90 per cent of them have at least one piece of legislation on access to AT.
- Even then, the current levels of access imply a long road to universal AT access.
Practice Question for Mains
- Until AT solutions are integrated with the existing primary healthcare packages the current top-down approach is of limited benefit. Discuss. (15 Marks,250 Words).