More than a billion people are living with disabilities (source WHO).
One of the main problems for people with disabilities is their lack of independence. Their dependency on others is excluding them from our society, from employment opportunities, and adversely affecting their dignity and self-esteem.
Assistive Technology (AT) has been proven to make a significant impact on the lives of people with disabilities. It can drastically improve their quality of lives, make them more independent, and enable their inclusion in their communities.
Assistive technology is defined as: “any product or service that maintains or improves the ability of individuals with disabilities or impairments to communicate, learn and live independent, fulfilling and productive lives” (source British Assistive Technology Association).
To ensure the effective use of assistive devices, they need to suit both the environment and the user. In addition, there is a need for an adequate follow-up of a rehab professional (occupational therapist, etc.).
Unfortunately, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) report, only 10% of people with disabilities are actually using assistive technology in their daily lives. Furthermore, in low and mid-income countries, the number is as low as 5%. This is a critical unmet need and a great opportunity for a significant global social impact.
In my humble opinion, the solution requires a two-prong approach: increase the rate and scale of innovation and availability of assistive technology and at the same time improve the adaptation and effective usage of these products and services.
Encouraging Assistive Technology Innovation
To increase the innovation of assistive technology there is a need to encourage more entrepreneurship in this space. Today, hi-tech entrepreneurs can take advantage of the great ecosystems made available to them. These ecosystems make it easier, simpler and faster to develop innovative products and start new companies.
These ecosystems include startup accelerator programs and incubators. They also include countless VCs and private investors vying to invest in these startup companies. In addition, there are many service providers, such as lawyers, accounting firms, design and manufacturing companies that have created new business models targeted at engaging startup companies from day 1.
Moreover, there is tremendous hype and publicity around hi-tech entrepreneurs, who have gained fame and celebrity status. And technology startups are now the most desired companies to work for.
Conversely, social entrepreneurs, face a very different reality. There are only two accelerator programs in the world for assistive technology (A3I, Remarkable); there are few impact investors; and, no ecosystems to assist them in realizing their great ideas into successful products and businesses.
This must change!
If we want to have more innovation in the field of assistive technology we need to encourage more entrepreneurs to make it their purpose in life. Simply put, we must create similar ecosystems for impact entrepreneurs to those that exist for hi-tech entrepreneurs. Furthermore, we need to create more awareness and incentives for impact entrepreneurs. This needs to be a common goal of leaders, successful impact entrepreneurs, socially responsible global brands, impact investors, and governments.
This can encourage entrepreneurship, and make a real impact in the world of people with disabilities.
Improving the Adoption of Assistive Technology
In addition, there is a need to train rehabilitation professionals on matching and adapting assistive technologies for people with disabilities.
They need tools and training that will enable them to easily and quickly apply the right solution for their client. This will significantly improve rehab professionals ability to utilize assistive technology. And, that will increase people with disabilities’ independence, and improve their quality of life.
The inclusion of people with disabilities in our society is not just doing a good thing and the right thing. It’s also the smart thing. When 15% of the world’s population is sidelined and not participating we’re not functioning at our full capacity and potential. Just imagine what great things we can accomplish when we will operate at our full potential.
That’s the real impact potential of technology innovation.