Appropriate Assistive Technology

In 1994, UN Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities identified access to assistive devices as preconditions for Equalization of Opportunities and asked Member States to ensure the development and supply of assistive devices for persons with disabilities, to assist them to increase their level of independence in their daily living and to exercise their rights. It further asked that Member States support the development, production, distribution and servicing of assistive devices and equipment and the dissemination of knowledge about them (Rule 4).

The recent Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006), especially in its article 20 on personal mobility and article 26, made it obligatory for the Member States ratifying the convention to promote the availability, knowledge and use of assistive devices and technologies, designed for persons with disabilities, as they relate to habilitation and rehabilitation.

However despite of all these key mandates, access to assistive devices is still not universal. In low and mid income countries, only 5-15% of people with disabilities can access assistive devices. The need for assistive devices is increasing everyday due to the emergence of non-communicable diseases, conflicts, road traffic injuries and most importantly ageing populations. As people are living longer, they need more assistive devices to remain functional and productive. However due to a lack of access to assistive devices, a majority of people, especially those who live in low and mid income countries, remain in isolation and lead a life at the mercy of others.

Assistive devices, where available, are often not appropriate for low and mid income countries. The current trend of “Copy-Paste” Tech-Transfer from the North will never work in the South, as realities are different. A “Northern Solution” is often counterproductive in the southern part of the world but a “Southern Solution” could be good for the whole world. The world needs a concept of Appropriate Assistive Technology.

The whole issue of assistive devices needs to be looked at from a different perspective – more from the development perspective than the rehabilitation or medical perspective, more from the southern perspective than the northern perspective. We need to value both software as well as hardware and look beyond products. Promoting the concept of Appropriate Assistive Technology will benefit all – everyone everywhere.