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Themes: Assistive & Accessible Technology

The publication of the Global Report on AT is a brilliant start, but it's what we do next that matters to 3.5 billion people around the world who need access to AT”

Vicki Austin

Co-founder and CEO of CIC

When we established GDI Hub back in 2016, we hoped that we’d be able to tackle some of the most challenging disability issues. Since then, we’ve reached over 23 million people, published more than 150 influencing papers alongside case studies and developing strategic tools. And now, we are proud to say, we became the first (and only so far) WHO Collaboration Center for Assistive Technology. A sign that not only has there been progress in GDI Hub’s story, but that progress has happened in our movement at a global scale. It’s still a privilege to be leading AT2030, funded by UK Aid, to test ‘what works’ to get AT to the people who need it around the world. And to be working with so many dedicated and innovative partners, more than 70, who’ve supported this programme of work across: data, innovation, community led practice and system strengthening since 2018, thank you.

AT2030 partners have also supported the Global Report for Assistive Technology in a variety of ways.

GDI Hub co-founder, Professor Cathy Holloway, has been a member of the Advisory Board and has helped to draft 62 peer reviewed articles, paving the way for a new understanding of the potential of digital for disabled people.

With ATscale we’ve published five product narratives which explore market shaping related to 5 assistive products including wheelchairs, hearing aids, digital devices such as mobile and AAC devices, eyeglasses and finally, prosthetics. This last one on prosthetics spurred the creation of a 6th report on clubfoot because the evidence was so profound.

We’ve established Africa’s first Assistive Tech accelerator – Innovate Now, supporting 21 businesses so far and the novel trial of an AT Impact fund (ATIF) which has invested technical expertise alongside catalytic grant capital into 5 of the most promising businesses across Africa, which hopes of scaling their products.

We’ve worked with Country Governments to do 11 Country Capacity Assessments - a systems level analysis, that has allowed countries to develop and pursue national action plans on assistive technology.

We’ve also developed the Training in Assistive Products (TAP) module; the one stop shop trials; and further the in-country implementation work which is now proving so important in countries like Ethiopia, Rwanda, South Africa and Sierra Leone.

Through our work in over 35 countries, we’ve found it vital to strengthen government capacity, as well as community participation and opportunities for innovation - and many of these tools and publications have helped to do that.

Completing four country-level case studies focused on inclusive design in the built environment has allowed us to gather evidence on a global scale on the role of the built environment and achieving disability justice. With four more to follow, we’ll be well positioned to create the Global Action Report, which will support cities and rural communities to create inclusive environments.

AT2030 has also allowed us to find out more about some of the most challenging issues in AT access. Our work with those living in informal settlements in Sierra Leone and Indonesia has enabled us to figure out what works for some of the poorest people, living in the harshest conditions, buying most of their AT from the informal sector.

We also helped to establish more than 60 partnerships; most importantly, ATscale. Thanks to this funding, and continued partnership, ATscale has the potential to make a huge impact. We offer our continued support to this endeavour.

What we have learned so far from our extensive work together over the past 5 years, is that we are getting closer to having the data, tools, skills and political will we need to get AT to the 3.5 billion people that need it. The Global Report is a vital part of this journey, as are the hundreds and thousands of country based initiatives that have been operating for the decades that bring us to this point. But it’s the start of the journey, not the end. The next steps are vital and urgent.

In the last 3 years I have seen progress on another level – momentum has gathered since the first GReAT summit I attended in 2017. I have seen a rise in publications, learning, knowledge and new partners coming into the arena. Market shaping experts who had previously focused in other areas and are now among the best in the world at advocating for AT. Innovators and technologists who are turning their attention to disability innovation are harnessing future technologies like AI and machine learning. And Ministers, Officials and community organisations in countries around the world who are coming together to advocate for new budget lines, new working groups, new policy and new implementation plans – using tools developed through this work.

And this is a very good thing.

But we are a long way from ‘done’. I want to impress upon every person that despite the considerable distance travelled we must operate with a principle of urgency. We understand the benefit of AT for disabled people, and we also know the benefit of AT to the economy and wider society with the Return on Investment being 9:1.

We want lives lived in joy not in sorrow.

After the impact of the past 18 months, now is the time to collectively do better and we are delighted to be able to support the work of GATE.

Together we can do hard things! If one organisation could achieve access to AT alone, it would already be done.

GDI Hub calls on everyone to consider their role in making change for disabled people and access to life changing assistive technology.