Assistive technology involves any hardware devices or software programs that help improve the physical functions of people suffering from disability or old age. Assistive devices are broadly defined as the tools that provide functioning and independence to people with disabilities. Any device, whether hearing aids, prescription glasses, prosthetics, braces, artificial limbs, wheelchairs, or walkers, is considered an assistive device. As per a report published by WHO, 2.5 billion people worldwide need assistive devices for some kind of disability. The number is projected to grow exponentially in the coming few years with an aging population and high mortality rates.
Who needs assistive devices?
Generally, assistive devices are used by anyone facing difficulty living an everyday life due to a physical or mental condition. They require assistance to perform daily tasks, and these devices help improve their conditions to live a better life.
- People are suffering from permanent or temporary disability due to birth conditions, accidents, or chronic diseases.
- People suffering from mental disorders like dementia or autism
- Elderly people with age-related complications
Assistive devices help people regain their confidence, dependence, and dignity to a great extent. People can continue their education, work, and civic life with advanced assistive technology.
Assistive technology has benefitted the disabled community globally, and the demand is high. However, there are some challenges and socio-economic factors barring this technology from a wider reach.
Price: The assistive device suppliers mainly target the high-income group, and the lower-income group is often neglected. It has become challenging for many to access assistive technologies due to their high cost. Disabled people from poor households cannot afford to buy an assistive device. They often depend on community services or charity groups where the devices are sourced in bulk with lower quality and fewer customization options.
Maintenance: Proper service and maintenance of assistive devices are often difficult, especially in cases where the device is distributed in workshops or by charitable organizations. In other scenarios, the devices are procured from retail shops, pharmacies, or private clinics. This makes it difficult for the users to appropriately follow-up, repair, and maintain the devices in use.
Personnel: Skilled health workers are required for proper fitting, user training, and follow-up of Disability assistive devices. Without adequate guidance and support, assistive devices might not benefit the user. If the wheelchair given to a patient with a spinal injury isn’t equipped to provide necessary spinal support, it makes no use. Moreover, it can deteriorate the user’s condition further. So, it is essential to employ trained individuals who can guide and support the users with the best usage of the assistive devices.
Policy: In most developing countries, there is no support from the government to drive necessary campaigns for the disabled community. There are no national delivery schemes to enable the disabled and poor people with assistive devices. Also, in developed countries, government policies and services are neither integrated nor adequate. People are frequently asked to travel long distances to attend workshops or events, which is impractical and inconvenient, adding to the woes of disabled people.
Assistive technology has become crucial in the health and wellness industry, catering to the needs of billions of people worldwide. However, large-scale awareness programs and significant policy alterations are required to make this technology accessible. The goal should include each disabled person under one umbrella where holistic well-being and access to basic facilities and equipment will be ensured. Healthcare facilities and charitable organizations can play a significant role in employing more volunteers and trained professionals to cater to the needs of the disabled and elderly community. Donations must be channelled strategically with proper distribution of funds, considering different levels of disability conditions. Also, follow-up and support services in the assistive devices sector should be streamlined to ensure long-term benefits for the users. Creating awareness campaigns and social media groups are encouraged for better participation and inclusion from the disabled community. These groups can help develop a platform for the disabled and elderly, offering the best services and support in multiple areas. Be it critical health care, emergency services, elderly care, mental or general well-being, or social and legal support, the groups can be divided into different categories based on varied needs. Social integration also allows disabled people to come out of their shells, be inclusive, and express their views freely.