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Themes: Assistive Technology, Culture and Participation

Do we have the right Global Strategy to build access to Assistive Technology?

Colour Image of Vicky Austin

Vicki Austin

Co-founder and CEO of CIC

Not since the Paralympic Games in London 2012 have I felt such a massive upsurge of energy and enthusiasm, expertise and enterprise all focused on one clear goal: access to Assistive Technology for those who need it.

One billion people! That’s the number of humans that the World Health Organisation estimate currently need access to some kind Assistive Technology (AT) - like wheelchairs, hearing aids, eyeglasses, prosthetics or personal digital assistants. It’s an issue which affects everyone’s family at some point, and one in seven of us right now!

But at the moment up to 90% people don’t have access to the Assistive Technology they need to get a job, go to school, have a family, or live fulfilled lives as family and community members. Most of the time this access gap is concentrated in Global South countries where prices and barriers to innovation for Assistive Technology are high and access and incomes are low. Drastic action is needed and the time to take it is now.

Timely then, that right now the awareness of this situation is transforming into concrete action. Important global and local institutions are gathering together to set a new mission: to reach half of those in need with the Assistive Technology they need by 2030.

This bold mission has been set out in a new strategy published by ATscale – the new Global Partnership for Assistive Technology. Please read and comment on the strategy. GDI Hub is proud to be a founding member of AT scale, along with the International Disability Alliance, the Clinton Health Access Initiative; multi-lateral agencies UNICEF and WHO; representatives from China and Kenya; and Bilateral Donors from the UK, US and Norway.

So how are we going to change things? Honestly, it is a huge challenge and we aren’t one hundred percent sure yet. And that’s ok. We will need innovative approaches to change the current situation and disruptive partnerships with new groups involved. GDI Hub is running an initial programme, funded by UK Aid, to test ‘what works’ called AT2030. It is operating in countries across Africa and Asia and trialling new ways of doing things within Assistive Technology markets; within national health systems; and co-producing ideas with communities themselves. AT2030 is based on scoping research we conducted last year, but we are building the knowledge and evidence every day.

What we do know though, as a global community, is that the work done to massively reduce the cost and increase access to vaccines and drugs like Anti Retro Virals (used to treat HIV) across the Global South (by our partners CHAI and others) is a good model to trial. This is called 'market-shaping', and this early UK Aid investment into AT2030 has enabled us to support CHAI to test this work for Assistive Technology. But it is early days and we are excited to see what comes of early investigations. GDI Hub is also looking at the ways in which new technologies - like this fantastic work by AMPARO - can help us promoting innovation in this space; watch this space for the 'Innovate Now' ecosystem about to launch in Nairobi this spring. We are lucky to have GATE on our team too bringing their years of expertise and knowledge, and designing new Assistive Technology training modules and procurement standards.

Together, the plan is that AT2030 will be the initial programme that helps to inform the work which ATscale is able to then take to ‘scale’ (as the name implies!) based on 'what works'. Over the long term the Global Strategy for Assistive Technology sets out the how ATscale will work and what it will do (as well as guiding AT2030 too), so its very important we have the right priorities. We need everyone's great ideas to tackle this huge global challenge.

Take a look and let us know what you think?

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