What you should remember about the first world report on assistive technology

Photograph David Constantine – coming from the WHO report

The first Global report on assistive technology for disabilities was recently published by WHO and Unicef. They worked together for 4 years, gathering data from 70 countries in order to enlighten medical and social challenges in access to technical aids. We have read the 100 pages and sum up the critical information for you.

WHY AND HOW WAS THIS REPORT WRITTEN ?

Published may 2022, the “Global report on assistive technology” is the first report led worldwide dealing with assistive technologies. It was written by WHO and Unicef as answer to the request of WHO’s member states further to the resolution “Improving access to assistive technology” voted may 2018.

It was based on data collected through an Assistive Technology Assessment tool circulated between 2018 and december 2021 within 70 countries. 323 647 persons were interviewed (51% of women) and more than 500 persons contributed to its writing. 

THE ACCESS TO ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGIES : A FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT

Assistive technologies or technical aids are products and services that maintain or increase autonomy. They can be dedicated to mobility, hearing, sight, cognition or communication. These products can be physical like wheelchairs, prosthesis, glasses or software programs and digital applications. 

Today, one out of three people, meaning more than 2.5 billion people in the world, need at least one technical aid. With an ageing population, chronic diseases (like respiratory or cardiovascular diseases) and cancers are increasing the same and this figure could hit 3.5 billions in 2050.

Moreover, the report states tremendous inequalities on the global scale. The share of people having access to technical aids in high income countries is 90%, whereas in the poorest countries this rate falls to 3%.

Yet, the access to technical aids is a fundamental right proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This right being a pre-condition to equality of opportunities, those equipment permit disabled persons to integrate themself into society by participating in education, to insert themself into the labor market and be implied in the communal, civil or political life.

THE BARRIERS TO EQUIPMENT

Without any surprise, the first obstacle to get an adapted technical aid is the price and the lack of external funding solutions (43% of the answers). The majority of the interviewed persons financed their aid themself (46%) or with the support of their close relatives (30%). 

The lack of information or their accessibility is also one important barrier. Find reliable informations, choose the right funding solutions diffused in different institutions, the report tells us “the mental load that comes with the search of informations weights very much on users”

The lack of services is also enlightened, most countries do not provide dedicated and/or trained personal. In addition, persons equipped with an aid are usually not formed to the use of the device and they are not offered any follow up service. The consequence to this is the decrease of time of use and sometimes the abandonment of the aid. 

WHO also points to the problem of the existing products being little repairable and adaptable. “Esthetical preferences are very important for protruding devices and specific populations (such as young adults for example). […] Despite the importance of conception in appropriation of assistive technologies, majority of the products are not adapted for children or gender-friendly”.

Scheme on barriers to Assitive technologies

To conclude, the distances separating patients to health services in some regions or the bad quality of the products offered on the market are added to the (too) long list of barriers to equipement

HOW TO IMPROVE THE SITUATION ?

The report offers 10 concrete propositions to improve access to assistive technologies on the global scale. In addition to obvious actions such as the allocation of resources, staff training, national strategies and cost reductions, we identified some intresting ideas.

  • ACTIVELY IMPLYING USERS AND THEIR FAMILIES

“Users should be seen as partners in assistive technology service provision, not passive service recipients. Users of assistive technology and their families often have unique insights about particular needs and their situation.” 

Trained, the user and his caregivers can indeed help with adjustments and small maintenance on the device. Equipped they master the use of the aid. They show themselves as experts to their peers and explain the benefits they get and also give their user feedback to the manufacturer. This point is particularly important for ORTHOPUS, it is inescapable to us in the development of our assistive technologies. 

  • IDENTIFY USER’S NEEDS BY CONSIDERING FACTUAL DATA

“Every country should have data on need, and on the demand and supply of assistive technology to understand the gaps and trends.” Investing in collect and exploitation of data is essential in the way to offer strategies adapted to populations. It’s a tool that helps with political decisions about assistive equipment.  

  • GATHER DIFFERENT PARTIES INVOLVED ENCOURAGE INNOVATION

Connecting users, researchers and manufacturers is critical for the new products reaching the market. It allows them to be completely adapted to the needs in daily life. 

ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY IS A LIFE CHANGER

These are Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’ words, WHO’s Directive Director and encourages the idea of the report : more than the practical support technical aids provide, it’s a lever to improve social and professional insertion

“In fact, access to appropriate, quality assistive technology can mean the difference between enabling or denying education for a child, participation in the workforce for an adult, or the opportunity to maintain independence and age with dignity for an older person.”

Added by Catherine Russel, Unicef’s Executive Director : “Nearly 240 million children have disabilities. Denying children the right to the products they need to thrive doesn’t only harm individual children, it deprives families and their communities of everything they could contribute if their needs were met.”

It is undeniable that improving access to assistive technologies creates a virtuous circle. Persons equipped gain independence and can imply themselves more actively in public or professional life, which has a positive impact on the whole society

The observation is perfectly clear and is similar to the global message of the World report on disability of 2011. The question is : when will we see concrete actions ? 

SOURCES : 

– Read the report “Global Report on Assistive Technology” (english) – OMS
Progress Indicators for access to assistive technology (english) – OMS
– Notre article “Ce que nous disent les chiffres du handicap dans le monde” (français)

WHO’s publications on the subject (choose category “assistive technology”)
Focus on the expression “assistive technologie” (english)

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