Assitive Technology (AT)
Assistive Technology refers to a wide range of devices, tools, and software designed to help maintain or improve one’s ability to perform daily activities, work, learning, travel, which might otherwise be difficult owing to one’s disability, age, other medical conditions, or an unaccommodating environment.
AT is crucial for inclusivity. It empowers persons with disabilities and others needing similar assistance to live independently and fully participate in all aspects of society. As a consequence, it reduces dependence on caregivers and other support services, promotes well-being, and improves the quality of one’s life.
WHAT IS IT AND WHO CAN USE IT
Assistive Technology ranges from simple no-tech or low-tech devices to complex, high-tech ones, and caters to numerous forms of impairments or disabilities. Some examples of Assistive Technology are:
text-to-sign language convertors, and
Assistive Technology is particularly of use to persons with disabilities, people with mental health conditions, neurodivergent persons, the ageing population, people recovering from injuries, and people with other medical conditions that hamper their daily living and functionality.
Assistive Technology Care Gap
There is a great unmet need for Assistive Technology all over the world.
According to the WHO,
Only 1 in 10 people globally have access to AT,
Only 5 to 15% of people in need of wheelchairs have access to one,
Only 10% of the global need for hearing aids is being met, and
200 million people requiring vision-related AT have no access to it.
While these are global figures, the care gap is further widened in India and other low and middle income countries, as over 80% of disabled people are from the Global South.
CHALLENGES TO ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY IN INDIA
Awareness: There is poor awareness of AT among people who need them, their families, and healthcare workers, too. For instance, many people do not know the wide range of products available, their eligibility for those services, and how to use AT products on their own.
Government funding, welfare schemes, and policy implementation: Government welfare schemes for disabled persons are provided on the basis of a ‘disability certificate’, which most do not possess, or meet the high cut-off for. Further, there is no dedicated policy towards ensuring complete access to Assistive Technology.
Out-of-pocket expenses: Lack of government support and coverage by healthcare providers results in people incurring high out-of-pocket costs to get the AT products they need.
Reachability: Crucially, AT products and services simply do not reach people from vulnerable communities, who, in addition to lacking awareness on AT, may not afford the several days of travel it takes to get to AT centers and receive products fit for their needs.