Nearly 1 billion children and adults with disabilities and older people who need assistive technology do not have access to it, new report finds

A new report released today by WHO and UNICEF reveals that more than 2.5 billion people need one or more assistive products, such as wheelchairs, hearing aids or apps that support communication and cognition. However, almost a billion of them do not have access to these products, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, where access can represent up to 3% of the need for life-saving products.

The Global Assistive Technology Report presents for the first time evidence on global needs and access to assistive products and offers a series of recommendations to expand availability and access, to raise awareness of these needs and to implement policies of inclusion to improve the lives of millions of people.

“Assistive technologies change lives; indeed they allow children with disabilities to have access to education, adults living with disabilities to have a job and social interactions, and the elderly to be independent and live in dignity”, said WHO Director-General Dr.r Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “To deny people access to these life-changing tools is not only a violation of human rights, it also shows economic shortsightedness. We call on all countries to fund and prioritize access to assistive technology and give everyone a chance to fulfill their potential. »

“Nearly 240 million children are disabled. Denying children the right to access the products they need to thrive not only harms children, but also robs families and their communities of everything they could provide if their needs were met” , said Catherine Russell, Executive Director of UNICEF. “Without access to assistive technologies, children with disabilities will continue to be deprived of an education, be at higher risk of child labor and subject to stigma and discrimination, which will undermine their confidence and affect their well-being. »

The report indicates that the number of people requiring one or more assistive products is expected to reach 3.5 billion by 2050, due to the aging of the population and the increase in the prevalence of non-communicable diseases worldwide. The report also highlights the huge gap in access between low-income and high-income countries. An analysis of 35 countries reveals that access ranges from 3% in the poorest countries to 90% in rich countries.

Affordability is a major barrier to access, the report says. About two-thirds of people with assistive products said they obtained them through out-of-pocket payments. Others said they depended on family and friends to support themselves financially.

A survey of 70 countries cited in the report found major gaps in service provision and workforce training for assistive technologies, particularly in the areas of cognition, communication and self-care . Previous surveys published by the WHO point to a lack of awareness and unaffordable prices; a lack of services; inadequate product quality, mix and quantity; and sourcing and supply chain challenges, which are major barriers.

Assistive products are generally seen as a way to participate in community life and society at large on an equal basis with others; without these products, people suffer from exclusion, are exposed to the risk of being isolated, live in poverty, can suffer from hunger and are forced to depend more on the support of their family, community and public authorities.

The positive impact of assistive products goes beyond improving the health, well-being, participation and inclusion of individual users; families and societies also benefit. For example, expanding access to quality-assured, safe and affordable assistive products leads to reduced health and well-being costs, such as recurrent hospital stays or benefits. and promotes a more productive labor force, indirectly stimulating economic growth.

Access to assistive technologies for children with disabilities is often the first step in child development, access to education, participation in sports and civic life, and preparation for employment like their peers. Children with disabilities face additional challenges as they grow, which requires frequent adjustment or replacement of their assistive products.

The report makes recommendations for concrete steps to be taken to improve access, including:

  1. Improving access within the education, health and social protection systems
  2. Ensure the availability, safety, effectiveness and affordability of assistive products
  3. Broaden, diversify and improve staff capacities
  4. Actively involve assistive technology users and their families
  5. Increase public awareness and fight stigma
  6. Invest in data and evidence-based policies
  7. Invest in research, innovation and an ecosystem that promotes access
  8. Establish enabling environments and invest in them
  9. Include assistive technologies in humanitarian responses
  10. .Provide technical and economic assistance through international cooperation to support country efforts.

Note to editors

Assistive technology is an umbrella term for assistive products and their related systems and services. Assistive products improve performance in all key functional areas such as mobility, hearing, self-care, sight, cognition and communication. These can be physical products, such as wheelchairs, prostheses or glasses, or software and digital applications. It can also be adaptations to the physical environment, such as movable ramps or grab bars.

People requiring assistive technology are people with disabilities; seniors ; people with non-communicable diseases, including neglected tropical diseases; people with mental disorders; people with progressive loss of function or loss of intrinsic capacity and many people affected by humanitarian crises.

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