Themes: Assistive & Accessible Technology, Culture and Participation
UK stands up for AT in significant Parliamentary moment for disability and international development, as GDI Hub holds House of Commons reception
Last week Global Disability Innovation Hub (GDI Hub) and Minister for Trade, Rt Hon Penny Mordaunt, hosted a parliamentary reception marking the official UK launch of WHO-UNICEF Global Report on Assistive Technology (AT) and the establishment of the world's first WHO Collaboration Centre on AT at GDI Hub's Academic Research Centre based at UCL.
According to the Global Report findings, 2.5 billion people - one in three people - need one or more assistive products, such as wheelchairs, hearing aids, or communication aids and cognition. This figure increases to two thirds of the global population of age 60 years and older. In low- and middle-income countries access levels can be as low as 3% of the need. By 2050 its estimated that 3.4 billion will be without access to these life-changing products. Despite this, and the overwhelming evidence that AT can have a significant effect on the user, the community and provide significant benefit to the economy, the sector remains in its infancy.
The Global Report for AT was built on much of the work from the UK’s largest ever aid investment into assistive technology, AT2030, a £40 million, match-funded programme, designed to test ‘what works’ in getting AT to those that need it around the world. Led by GDI Hub, the programme has built capacity and ecosystems, providing evidence, data and innovative AT acceleration in over 40 countries globally. With over 150 insight papers contributing to the Global Report, as well as support given to the international tools used to collate its evidence, the UK has taken a uniquely leading position in this cutting-edge space by not only focussing on AT distribution but on the research, tools and systems change required to increase real impact for disabled people, families and communities.
The WHO Collaboration Center, led by GDI Hub and based out of UCL Engineering, is designated by the Director-General of WHO to form part of an international collaborative network set up by WHO in support of its programme at the country, intercountry, regional, interregional and global levels. Collaboration Centres can also participate in the strengthening of country resources, a notable development given the UK National Disability Strategy publication last year, which contained the ambition to create a National Centre for Assistive Technology. The GDI Hub-led WHO Collaboration Centre signifies even more progress in the AT sector, and through GDI Hub’s leadership, cements the UK’s position of influence globally and evidences the impact of aid investment at home.
The Parliamentary event, hosted by Trade Minister, Rt Hon Penny Mordaunt, brought together civil servants, AT users, experts in the field and academia to celebrate this momentum and which is hoped can make real change for disabled people internationally and at home. Trade Minister, Rt HonPenny Mordaunt, opened the event reflecting on the progress of Assistive and Accessible Technology in the last four years and on the opportunities ahead “It's important to disabled people in their families, but it is also important to trade, investment, our economy, international cooperation, diplomatic relations, science research, innovation, and the market, even the effects of climate change.”. Stating that “I'm very clear that in the role that I have at the moment, we need to do more on this agenda.” finishing with “I stand ready in trade, to assist [GDI Hub] with the next chapter. But you've done an amazing thing, thank you.”
During the reception disability leads from WHO (Chapal Khasnabis) and UNICEF (Fernando Botelho), joined the CEO of ATscale (Pascal Bijleveld) and FCDO’s Chief Scientific Adviser (Charlotte Watts) to share the importance and value of AT for disabled and aging people in the UK and around the world.
Welcoming the publication of the Global Report on AT and the newly awarded status of GDI Hub’s as the first official WHO Collaborating Centre on AT, UCL Provost Dr Michael Spence AC shared the importance of academic excellence, research, science, technology and innovation. “to have a centre that brings together, world class learning, both fundamental science and the best engineering, that brings together a great social science policy to make a difference in lives and communities that's deep in the DNA of UCL. But it's also our future, we're expanding our campus, expanding our activities to the Olympic Park site for a reason; one, because we believe in East London, but two because there's something about that quite extraordinary place. ”
GDI Hub’s Academic Director and co-founder Professor Cathy Holloway explained, “We test what works, we get the data and evidence, we feed into reports like [Global Report Assistive Technology] and give these reports to ministers to help them make decisions. But we also give them to other people to invest in the innovation space. We have innovators in the room who are helping us to make the UK globally leading in Assistive Technology”
A legacy of the London 2012 Paralympic Games, GDI Hub is now operational in 41 countries, having reached 23 million people since 2016. In September GDI Hub research labs will open at the newly constructed UCL East campus, on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park - signifying a landmark moment in the history of UCL and disability innovation.
Charlotte Watts, FCDO said “we're really delighted to have supported AT2030 and ATscale. And we continue to be really interested in thinking through how we move forward and support this agenda.” adding “We want to continue to build and forge those partnerships, and really to try and mobilise the scale of investment that we know that we'll need.”
GDI Hub CEO and co-founder Vicki Austin concluded “if the last few years have taught us anything, it's to reflect on the fact that together we can do hard things…”, Vicki highlighted what was needed to drive change from London 2012, “Our research shows us that it’s good leadership and political backing across the divide, it's listening to people who are most affected, it's making sure that we have good planning operational strategies in place so that every single person knows how they can contribute.” - reflecting that the Global Report on AT publication was “only the start.”
Vicki Ford MP on our UK aid funded AT2030, to test "what works" for AT