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Assistive technology – World Health Organization

January 14, 2024

Assistive technology is an umbrella term for assistive products and their related systems and services.
Assistive products help maintain or improve an individual’s functioning related to cognition, communication, hearing, mobility, self-care and vision, thus enabling their health, well-being, inclusion and participation.
Improving access to assistive technology can contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and to ensuring that no one is left behind. This is through enabling the inclusion and participation of assistive technology users in their family, community and all areas of society, including the political, economic and social spheres.
Most people will need assistive technology at some point in their lives, especially as they age. While some may require assistive technology temporarily, such as after an accident or illness, others may require it for a longer period or throughout their lifespan.
Assistive technology is most needed by:
Assistive technology can help people in all aspects of their lives, including in education, employment, fitness, leisure and other everyday activities such as self-care, cooking and reading.
Assistive technology can positively impact a person, their family and friends, and has broader socioeconomic benefits. For example:
The WHO and UNICEF Global report on assistive technology (2022) demonstrates considerable inequity in access to assistive technology. As few as 3% of people in some low-income countries were reported to have access to the assistive products they need, in comparison to 90% in some high-income countries.
Examples of the unmet global need for specific assistive technology include:
Barriers impacting access to assistive technology include low awareness, high costs, limited physical access, inadequate product range, procurement challenges, workforce capacity gaps, inadequate policy, insufficient funding, assistive technology sector fragmentation and sociodemographic obstacles.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development places good health and well-being at the centre of a new development vision. It emphasizes universal health coverage (UHC) to ensure sustainable development for all so that everyone can access the health services needed without financial hardship.
Addressing the unmet need for assistive products is crucial for achieving Sustainable Development Goals, providing UHC, and implementing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
‘Leaving no one behind’ means ensuring people with disabilities, the older population, those affected by chronic diseases and everyone who needs assistive technology are included in society and able to live healthy and dignified lives.
The WHO and UNICEF Global report on assistive technology (2022) offers recommendations specifically intended to steer governments and other stakeholders towards achieving universal access to assistive technology. These 10 priority recommendations underline the ongoing efforts required to enhance access to assistive technology for all in need.
WHO is taking measures to address the global disparity in access to assistive technology, developing normative guidance and providing technical support to Member States to support them in implementing the 2018 World Health Assembly Resolution on Improving Access to Assistive Technology (WHA71.8). WHO uses the WHO-GATE 5P framework as a strategy for strengthening access to assistive technology in any context. This strategy places people at the centre and focuses equal attention on policy, products, provision and personnel as interconnected elements that must be aligned to ensure equitable access.
WHO and UNICEF published the Global Report on Assistive Technology in 2022, which provides the most comprehensive global evidence on assistive technology. WHO has developed a range of guidance, tools and resources in collaboration with other partners to support countries to strengthen their assistive technology provision systems. WHO is also the Secretariat for the Global Cooperation on Assistive Technology (GATE) Initiative, which brings together diverse stakeholders who share the vision of a world where assistive technology is universally accessible to everyone, everywhere.
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