Accessible Assistive Technologies: A boon to people with disabilities

A blog on how assistive technologies are empowering lives of persons with disabilities and their potential to narrow the gap.

The difficulty faced by the people with disabilities in navigating through the daily chores of life makes them vulnerable. Technology is a medicine to the most vulnerable amongst us. Technology took an inseparable place in human life making the performing of tasks more efficient and relatively easier. Easier and efficient task performance is an imperative to assist people with disabilities in handling their activities hassle free.  Assistive technologies bridge the gap between the shortcomings of a differently abled person which disable him/her from performing a task and the strength required to perform a task.  Simply put, the gap between ability to perform and actual strength required to perform a task.

Over the years significant progress has been made in developing Assistive Technologies and making them accessible. Electronic Wheel Chairs, Speech to text, Text to speech, Screen Readers, Adaptive Keyboards, etc. are innovations that facilitated persons with disabilities access life better and prove their mettle and abilities. As the gap between the ability to perform and strengths required to perform narrowed, the employers started recognizing that people with disabilities can now be as productive as anyone else. Once considered a dream, today assistive technologies are creating opportunities for people with disabilities in different walks of life.

Empowering lives through Assistive Technologies

– A glimpse into the impact created by the technology:

Education:  Conventional teaching methodology is limiting and at times incomprehensible for children with autism. Children with autism face difficulty with verbal communication and social interactions. Learning Tablets fused with technology like text to speech have ensured that children affected with autism can get education at comfort of being in their independent space (without facing the discomfort of attending a class with several other children) and express their views easily (text to speech).

Exercise: People suffering from Down syndrome or Cerebral Palsy have constrained motor skills, leading to low muscle mass. Rhythm exercises improve muscle control. Plugging in music devices to exercise equipment is enabling people to exercise while listening to rhythms, thereby creating an opportunity to the impaired to exercise better and gain better control of their muscles.

Life at Work: These technologies transformed the way people with disabilities are progressing in the job market. From developing the right skills to moving up the career ladder, assistive technologies like live captions during webcasts, text and video telephony, inclusive workstations, etc. have enabled the disabled to bring out highest possible performance.

Behavioral Monitor: The need for technological assistance is not only for the direct beneficiaries, i.e. persons with disabilities, but also for the people who deal with them. This is significant in case of people suffering from Alzheimer’s. Apps are available to record, note, track and analyze behavioral changes so as to work on them progressively.

It is quite evident that technology greatly empowered people with disabilities and with each passing day, the ever evolving technology will further narrow the gap between the abled and the disabled. However the gap between availability of technology and its access is still wide, the same is the scenario in India.

The Indian Scenario:

Despite the availability of a wide range of Assistive Technologies in the global market, their access to Indian masses is still not up to the mark. A variety of reasons might have fueled this situation some of which are listed below:

  • Some technologies have to undergo customized development phase suiting to localized requirements thereby paving way for a delayed release in India
  • Highly sophisticated imported technologies are expensive and out of reach for people from low income strata
  • Lack of awareness reduces the demand thereby pushing producers to produce less (increased prices)

As nothing much can be done to address the challenge of customization, a policy level framework to encourage indigenously produced devices would also help in tackling the problem of high cost imported devices. But for the success of indigenous production, there needs to be demand for the products. A report claims that low awareness about assistive technologies or purchasing capacity will limit the demand thereby not making their production attractive. An increased awareness will definitely further the demand, as WHO reported that a huge market awaits the developers and producers of assistive technologies.

An increased demand backed up by low cost and high quality products will make life better for the people with disabilities. To reduce the costs and deliver high quality products, efforts need to be put in by the government and device producers. Government financing for the devices on behalf of low income population group will ensure bulk procurement and better bargaining to bring the prices down. PPP (Public Private Partnership) and other partnership models can help immensely in highly populated countries like India. Botswana’s Solar Powered Hearing Aid Project was successful because of the strength of the partnerships. Good relationships with the National Government, International Government Organizations, NGO’s and social entrepreneurs helped in research and development, technological advancement and better market reach. Governments and producers need to collaborate to deliver high quality at low cost. Greater demand and lower costs will turn the production profitable and ensure an increased Return on Investment to the producers, and consumers.

Thus by overcoming the barriers to access, Accessible Assistive Technologies will turn into a boon to people with disabilities. They will empower the vulnerable amongst us to lead a balanced life.

Srilakshmi Bellamkonda | Program Lead – GROW PwD

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