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Themes: Assistive & Accessible Technology

First ever global guide for assistive technology to improve the life of millions

Many people in the world today lack access to appropriate assistive technology. WHO estimates that out of the one billion people needing at least one assistive product, nine in ten go without.

The barriers are focused around the cost and availability of assistive products, the lack of harmonized specifications, broken supply systems, and the fact that society is still not as inclusive of persons with disabilities as it needs to be. The result for many people in low- and middle-income countries is no access or only access to low-quality, inappropriate products.

To address some of those barriers WHO has created the Assistive Products Specifications guidebook, which contains specs for 26 prioritised assistive products, including the minimum quality requirements for manufacturing.

Funded by UK Aid under Global Disability Innovation Hub’s AT2030 programme, the Assistive Products Specifications supports a focus on innovative products, new service models, and global capacity to drive disability innovation for a fairer world.

This first compilation of the Assistive Products Specifications includes products selected from the Priority Assistive Products List and covers mobility, hearing, vision, communication, cognition and self-care. The products range from clubfoot braces and wheelchairs to hearing aids, alarm signalers and audio-players.

The main aim of the Assistive Products Specifications is to ensure countries get supply of good quality and affordable assistive products for all who need them. Each Assistive Products Specification describes the functional and performance requirements that can be used as a model to guide manufacturing and procurement.

Appropriate assistive technology can have a direct impact on the well-being of children and adults by supporting their functionality and inclusion into society, increasing opportunities for education, employment and social engagement.

Assistive Products Specifications is the first global guide for quality-assured assistive products and will be updated on a regular basis. Quality assistive technology for all is the ultimate aim of this guide-book, and to improve the well-being of millions of people.

A new global guide to expand access to quality assistive products

Eight-year old Aseel had a surgery when she was a baby that left her partially paralyzed. She has spent most of her life finding ways to adapt and experience a normal childhood in a refugee camp in Jordan. Being a refugee hasn’t made her life easier. Until recently, Aseel used a stroller as a makeshift wheelchair and struggled to get around and stay engaged in the classroom because the stroller hurt her back.

Thanks to WHO’s work on globalizing wheelchair guidelines, and UNICEF’s disability-focused programmes, a wheelchair of appropriate size and design was provided to Aseel to help her be included in school activities and move around more easily.

Like Aseel, many people in the world today lack access to appropriate assistive technology. Children with injuries living in low- and middle-income or fragile countries mostly depend on donated wheelchairs, which are often of poor quality and inappropriate for the user or their environment.

This year, WHO and UNICEF will issue a joint tender for wheelchair and hearing aids and will ensure the products reach those who need them. The two agencies have already identified and are working with assistive technology manufacturers to ensure the specs are followed and that production and supply can be cost-effective for both bulk buyers and individuals. Both organizations will also support countries with training to adapt their national standards to improve access to quality, life-changing health products.

WHO work on assistive technology

WHO works to change the landscape of access to assistive technology through a multi-pronged approach based on human rights, universal health coverage and the realities of low- and middle-income countries. In 2016, it issued the Priority assistive products list, a compilation of the 50 most essential assistive products, selected based on a survey done with persons living with disabilities and their carers. WHO has been active in wheelchair provision since 2004 and introduced the Wheelchair Guidelines, training and wheelchair provision standards.

UNICEF work on assistive technology

UNICEF focuses on three key activities to ensure disability-inclusive supplies are available and accessible worldwide. First, the organization is analyzing and updating its products in the UNICEF Supply Catalogue to ensure they are disability-friendly. Second, UNICEF is introducing new assistive technology to programmes worldwide, such as the new disability-friendly latrine. This work involves collaborating with WHO and partners to develop guidance for AT suppliers who produce products and humanitarian staff who procure the products. Finally, UNICEF is increasing advocacy efforts to gain a global consensus for assistive technology.

WHO-UNICEF Joint Action Plan on Assistive Technology

To improve access to assistive technology for everyone, everywhere, on 28 July 2020, WHO and UNICEF signed a Joint Action Plan on Assistive Technology and included provision of assistive products under the Strategic Collaboration Framework between The World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund to bring a catalytic impact and provide quality assistive products to the 900 million people that are lacking it.

UK Aid’s AT2030 led by Global Disability Innovation Hub (GDI Hub)

AT2030 tests ‘what works’ to improve access to AT and support solutions to scale. With a focus on innovative products, new service models, and global capacity support, the programme aims to reach 9 million people directly and 6 million more indirectly to enable a lifetime of potential through life-changing assistive technology. GDI Hub is a research and practice centre driving disability innovation for a fairer world. Operational in 35 countries, the GDI Hub develops bold approaches, partnerships and ecosystems to accelerate change.

Assistive Product Specifications
Assistive Product Specifications