Assistive Technology (AT), for What?
This year (2022) has seen the publication of the World’s first Global Report on Assistive Technology (GReAT) . This completes almost a decade of work to ensure assistive technology (AT) access is a core development issue. The lack of access to assistive products (APs), such as wheelchairs, hearing aids, and eyeglasses, as well as less well-referenced products such as incontinence pads, mobile phone applications, or walking sticks, affects as many as 2.5 billion people globally. Furthermore, the provision of APs would reap a 1:9 return on investment . This could result in a family in need netting (or living without) over GBP 100,000 in their lifetime  or more, if we count dynamic overspills in the economy such as employment of assistive technology services and manufacturing of devices .
Amartya Sen’s seminal Tanner lecture: Equality of What? began a contestation on social justice and human wellbeing that saw a new human development paradigm emerge—the capability approach (CA)—which has been influential ever since. Following interviews with leading global assistive technology (AT) stakeholders, and users, this paper takes inspiration from Sen’s core question and posits, AT for what? arguing that AT should be understood as a mechanism to achieve the things that AT users’ value. Significantly, our research found no commonly agreed operational global framework for (disability) justice within which leading AT stakeholders were operating. Instead, actors were loosely aligned through funding priorities and the CRPD. We suggest that this raises the possibility for (welcome and needed) incoming actors to diverge from efficiently designed collective action, due to perverse incentives enabled by unanchored interventions. The Global Report on Assistive Technology (GReAT) helps, greatly! However, we find there are still vital gaps in coordination; as technology advances, and AT proliferates, no longer can the device-plus-service approach suffice. Rather, those of us interested in human flourishing might explore locating AT access within an operational global framework for disability justice, which recognizes AT as a mechanism to achieve broader aims, linked to people’s capabilities to choose what they can do and be.