Assistive technology is changing the lives of those who need it most (WHO)

“Assistive technology is life-changing – it opens the door to education for children with disabilities, employment and social interaction for adults with disabilities, and independent and dignified lives for older people,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The Global Assistive Technology Report, jointly produced by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), provides new data on global demand for and access to technologies that can make a difference.

We call on all countries to fund and prioritize access to assistive technology – WHO chief

huge differences

While more than 2.5 billion people need one or more assistive devices to support communication and cognition, such as wheelchairs or hearing aids, a shocking billion people don’t just not have access to them.

The report highlights the huge gap that separates low-income countries from high-income countries. An analysis of 35 states shows that enrollment rates range from 3% in poorer countries to 90% in rich countries.

“Nearly 240 million children have disabilities,” said UNICEF Executive Director Katherine Russell.

Denying them the right to the foods they need to thrive doesn’t just harm every child, “it deprives families and their communities of everything they could provide if their needs were met,” says Russell.

Identify Obstacles

The report notes that affordability is a major barrier to access.

About two-thirds of people who use assistive devices said they pay out of pocket, while others have to rely on family and friends.

At the same time, aging populations and rising incidences of noncommunicable diseases mean that by 2050, the number of people in need of assistive technology will reach 3.5 billion.

In addition, the survey in 70 countries identified significant gaps in assistive technology in services and staff training levels, including in the areas of cognition, communication and self-care.

Other major barriers identified in previous WHO surveys include unaffordable prices, lack of awareness and services, inadequate product quality, and supply and supply chain problems.

© UNICEF/Zia Gafik

In Kosovo, a father helps his son with cerebral palsy get back into an electric wheelchair.

Multiple wins

Assistive products are usually seen as a way to participate in life on an equal basis with others.

Without them, people risk isolation, poverty and hunger, suffer exclusion and become more dependent on family, community and government support.

Moreover, it is not only users who benefit from this: families and companies also benefit.

“Denying people access to these life-changing tools is not only a violation of human rights, but also a lack of economic vision,” said Dr. Tedros.

Ensuring greater access to quality, safe, and affordable assistive products reduces health and welfare costs, such as regular hospitalizations or public benefits, and promotes a more productive, healthy workforce, indirectly stimulating economic growth.

A health worker examines a deaf boy at the Atfalun Deaf Children's Society in the Gaza Strip.

© UNICEF/Davie

A health worker examines a deaf boy at the Atfalun Deaf Children’s Society in the Gaza Strip.

Children’s education

According to the report, access to assistive technology for children with disabilities is often the first step in their development, their access to education, their participation in sports and social life, and their preparation for life like their peers.

However, as they grow, they face additional challenges, such as frequent adjustments or the need to replace accessories.

“Without access to assistive technology, children with disabilities will continue to miss out on education, be at greater risk of child labor and face stigma and discrimination that undermine their confidence and well-being,” warned the head of UNICEF.

Worldwide, about 93 million children under the age of 15 have some form of disability.

© UNICEF/Wanda Kleio

Worldwide, about 93 million children under the age of 15 have some form of disability.

improve access

The Global Report contains a number of recommendations to increase accessibility and access, raise awareness and implement inclusion policies to improve the lives of millions of people.

In particular, he advocates improving access to education, health and social care systems, making assistive devices accessible, effective, and accessible, expanding, diversifying, and improving workforce opportunities, and investing in research, innovation, and a supportive ecosystem.

The paper also highlights the need to raise public awareness and combat stigma, develop and invest in an enabling environment and evidence-based policies, and incorporate this life-saving technology into humanitarian responses.

“We call on all countries to fund and prioritize access to assistive technology and empower everyone to reach their potential,” said Dr. Tedros.