What is it?
Assistive Technology (AT) involves the use of devices, software or equipment to help people with disability live healthy, productive, dignified and independent lives. It helps these people to surmount challenges so that they can learn, communicate and generally function better. With assistive technology, the need for support services, work caregivers, and formal health is reduced. Without this form of technology, the impact of disease and disability on the individual, family, and society has been heightened and this is through exclusion and isolation.
Due to lack of awareness, one in ten people today have access to assistive technology and this leaves the nine in dire need and suffering. High costs, lack of awareness, unavailability are the main contributing factors to these statistics.
Assistive technology (AT) tools help kids circumvent their weaknesses as they play into their strengths. Kids who struggle with reading, writing, math and other challenges find this technology so helpful. They can become more successful and productive just like any other child in school and this helps them grow in confidence and independence.
Many myths surround AT and these are connected with the stigma of learning and attention issues. For example, there is a myth that posits that Assistive technology is cheating and some of the parents feel that the child might become excessively reliant on that tool or device. There is also the understanding that this technology would prevent a child from learning academic skills. All these are myths and half-truths that must be disregarded in the strongest terms possible.
Who are the beneficiaries of Assistive technology?
✓ People with disabilities: These people are born with a physical challenge (body physical features like hands, legs, the mouth and such) and psychological challenges (attention and learning issues and such).
✓ Older people: Across the board, people of the age above sixty are considered to belong to the old age. Old age comes with its challenges, which may hinder their mobility, hearing, sight and other related body functionalities.
✓ Persons with non-communicable diseases: These are people who are suffering from, majorly lifestyle or genetic diseases- those are not transferable from one individual to another.
✓ People with mental health issues: these are people suffering from health conditions such as dementia or autism.
Benefits of Assistive technology
✓ Assistive technology has a positive impact on both the health and general well-being of the beneficiary. In addition, their relationship with the families, close relatives, and friends of these people is enhanced. For instance;
✓ The use of hearing aids by the children improves the language skills, without which the children would miss important opportunities in education and employment.
✓ Use of wheelchairs enables access to education, employment, and healthcare costs aided by reduced risk of pressure sores and contractures.
✓ With assistive technology, the need for long-term care in the care homes is reduced or even delayed and therefore they can continue to live home.
The state of Global need for Assistive technology
It is sad that globally, there are many people who need Assistive technology and do not have access to it. For example;
✓ Over 200 million people with low vision do not have access to assistive products.
✓ Less than 15% of the 75 Million people who need wheelchairs do not have access to such.
✓ Production of hearing aids meets less than 10% of the more than 466 million people with hearing loss.
✓ There is a huge shortage in Assistive technology among the global workforce. In fact, statistics show that more than 75% of low-income countries have no prosthetic or orthotics training programs. The main contributing factor here is the lack of enough health workers trained in the provision of Assistive Technology.
✓ Affordability of the AT tools is another reason why a huge population of those in need do not have.
The main challenges of Assistive technology
In many countries, there are no programs to ensure access of Assistive technology to those in need. It’s worth noting here that access to this technology in the public sector is poor or non-existent. Even in the developed countries, access to the Assistive technology tools is limited and is not included in many healthcare schemes. For example, a number of European countries provide older people with one hearing aid during old age when they actually need two. This leads to high out-of-pocket payments by the users.
Currently, the Assistive technology market is limited, specialized, and skewed to serving high- income markets. Nationwide service delivery systems are lacking, there is limited state funding, user-centred research, and context-appropriate Assistive Technology product design.
The number of trained personnel on Assistive technology in most countries is very low. This makes access to these services to the needy almost impossible and unaffordable.
The 2030 agenda for sustainable development has placed healthcare and well-being at the centre of its vision. There is now an emphasis on Universal Healthcare Coverage (UHC) to ensure sustainable development for all. Therefore, this will ensure that everyone, wherever they are can access the health services they need.