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Themes: Assistive & Accessible Technology

GDI Hub, Google and AT Scale launch pioneering project to test ‘Mobile at Assistive Tech’ in Kenya, Brazil and India.

A group photo during a training session in Nairobi
A group photo during a training session in Nairobi

In a world driven by technology, the power to enhance the lives of persons with disabilities could be about to experience a revolution. A groundbreaking research project, launched in India, Brazil, and Kenya, is set to investigate accessibility and inclusion for millions of people with vision, hearing, and other impairments by leveraging the capabilities of smartphones and mobile apps. This initiative aims to empower individuals, enabling them to lead healthier, more joyful, and purposeful lives through Mobile as AT.

The project will measure how mobile phones act as an assistive technology and how the technology alongside training can transform lives. Professor Catherine Holloway, Co-founder, and Academic Director of the GDI Hub WHO Collaborating Centre said;

“the impact of a an internet-connected smartphone can transform the education, livelihood and social opportunities for persons with disability. We look forward to evidencing how this happens, which barriers exist and how we overcome these”. 

Professor Cathy Holloway

Speaking at the launch of the project at the Inclusive Africa Conference in Kenya on May 31st, Chris Patnoe, Google's Head of Accessibility and Disability Inclusion said;

"Simple technologies already exist, but for multiple reasons, the rate of usage is low. This project seeks to go further by bridging the gap and bringing these essential tools to millions of people, not only in these three countries but also beyond”.

Chris Patnoe

A training session in Nairobi
A training session in Nairobi

Digital assistive technology (AT) (like mobile phones and accessible apps) have the potential to transform the lives of persons with disabilities. For instance, for those with visual impairments, digital AT can enrich reading experiences by adding color and contrast to digital text or even reading the content aloud. Similarly, persons with hearing impairments can benefit from speech-to-text conversion, noise cancellation, and sound amplification features. The ability to consolidate multiple assistive technologies into a single device further enhances convenience and accessibility.

This project is a true partnership approach - led by UCL's Global Disability Innovation Hub (GDI Hub), backed by AT2030 funded by UK Aid, alongside Google, and supported by AT Scale the global partnership for AT, and supported by local partners in each country. The project is distributing mobile devices to 500 individuals in each of the three countries and will closely study the users' experiences with the digital assistive technology - researchers will measure the profound impact on quality of life, in order to inform future development and global AT access interventions.

Previous research done by AT Scale and GDI Hub reveals a stark disparity in mobile phone ownership, with only 45% of individuals in low- and middle-income countries owning a mobile phone compared to 76% in high-income countries. This gap becomes even more pronounced for persons with disabilities . However, through the combined efforts of UK Aid's AT2030 program, Google, and ATscale, the data and findings from this project will play a vital role in shaping policies and markets to ensure wider accessibility and adoption of assistive technologies.

A group photo of the panelists during the launch in Nairobi
A group photo of the panelists during the launch in Nairobi

Professor Cathy Holloway added:

"Mobile ownership and digital skills can be transformative for both the individuals themselves and their ability to access services, education, employment, and social activities. We have already learned that partnership is the key to success for AT2030, we are delighted to take this project forward with our partners Google and AT scale an look forward to driving this forward through our broader efforts around the world. 

Professor Cathy Holloway, Co-founder, and Academic Director of the GDI Hub the WHO Collaborating Centre

The project places great emphasis on a participatory approach; training individuals with vision, hearing, and other impairments to effectively utilize digital tech as AT. The launch of the digital assistive technology project across India, Brazil, and Kenya marks a significant step towards a more inclusive and accessible world. By harnessing the power of mobile apps and conducting in-depth research, this initiative aims.

"In low- and middle-income countries, many persons with disabilities could benefit hugely from mobile phones but do not own them, could not afford them, and do not know how to use the applications that could change their lives. This project will eventually look more closely at government policy and market failure, as well as demonstrate the value of these technologies to potential users,".

Pascal Bijleveld, CEO of ATscale