The Global Report on Assistive Technology, published by the WHO and UNICEF, shows that over 2.5 billion people need assistive products, such as wheelchairs and hearing aids, but 1 billion do not have access to them. By 2050, it is expected that 3.5 billion people will need assistive technology because every individual is likely to need it as they age, according to the report.
“Assistive technology is a life changer as it opens the door to education for children with impairments, employment and social interaction for adults living with disabilities and an independent life of dignity for older persons,” said Tedros Adhanom, Director, WHO
People in need of assistive technology face obstacles to access it, especially those who live in low and middle-income countries. The lack of awareness and services, low quality products and the disruption of the supply chains are some of the factors that limit access to those products. When people do not have access, they are more likely to suffer from exclusion, isolation and poverty. They are also more likely to depend on other people.
“Thanks to the new technologies, we have begun to break the paradigm that states that people with disabilities must be economically dependent on their families and inactive. New technologies allow people to be included in the labor sector,” said Mexico’s Ministry of Health.
It is estimated that 386 million people who are disabled are of working age. In some countries 80 percent of disabled people are unemployed, according to the International Labor Organization. In Mexico, during 2020, the rate of economic participation of people over 14 years old with disabilities or a mental condition was 38 percent, reported INEGI. Assistive technology allows a labor participation of larger parts of the population, which leads to investment returns for society, according to the report.
Without assistive products, children are also unable to fully participate in society. In 2018, 580,289 children and adolescents from five to 17 years old lived with a disability in Mexico. In this case, the most common problem was learning and attention disabilities, followed by vision and communication problems.
“Without access to assistive technology, children with disabilities will continue to miss out on their education, continue to be at a greater risk of child labor and continue to be subjected to stigma and discrimination, undermining their confidence and wellbeing,” said Catherine Russel, Director, UNICEF.
WHO and UNICEF suggest identifying strengths and weaknesses in current assistive technology systems and reducing access barriers by addressing questions related to their accessibility, affordability, adaptability, availability, acceptability and quality.