More than 2.5 billion people need one or more assistive products, yet nearly one billion of them are denied access, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, a new report has found.

With the number of people in need of assistive products likely to rise to 3.5 billion by 2050, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF are calling on all countries to fund and prioritise access to assistive technology and “give everyone a chance to live up to their potential”.

The first report to assess the global need for assistive products

The Global Report on Assistive Technology presents data based on a survey of 70 countries. It is the first report to assess the global need for assistive products and puts forward various recommendations to improve the lives of millions of people.

The research highlights the vast gap in access between low- and high-income countries, with access varying from 3% in poorer nations to 90% in wealthy nations.

Those who do have access are also often forced to pay out of their own pockets for assistive products, demonstrating a lack of affordability as a major issue.

There were also large gaps in service provision, and trained workforce for assistive technology, especially in the domains of cognition, communication and self-care.

Children with disabilities must be prioritised

The WHO and UNICEF highlight that assistive products are essential for some people to participate in community life, and without them, people are at risk of isolation and exclusion. They are also more likely to live in poverty, face hunger, and be forced to depend more on family, community and government support.

For children with disabilities, assistive technology is often the first step for childhood development access to education, participation in sports and civic life, and getting ready for employment like their peers.

As UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell explains: “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,”

“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 labour and continue to be subjected to stigma and discrimination, undermining their confidence and wellbeing.”

Denying people access to assistive technology is an infringement of human rights and economically short-sighted

The report therefore makes various recommendations to improve access to assistive technology, and put people with disabilities on an equal footing with others. They include:

  1. Improve access within education, health and social care systems
  2. Ensure availability, safety, effectiveness and affordability of assistive products
  3. Enlarge, diversify and improve workforce capacity
  4. Actively involve users of assistive technology and their families
  5. Increase public awareness and combat stigma
  6. Invest in data and evidence-based policy
  7. Invest in research, innovation, and an enabling ecosystem
  8. Develop and invest in enabling environments
  9. Include assistive technology in humanitarian responses
  10. Provide technical and economic assistance through international cooperation to support national efforts.

WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “Denying people access to these life-changing tools is not only an infringement of human rights, it’s economically short-sighted. We call on all countries to fund and prioritise access to assistive technology and give everyone a chance to live up to their potential.”