Almost one billion people with disabilities, including children, do not have access to wheelchairs and other devices that would enable them to move, read, write and communicate with the outside world.
The Global Report on Assistive Technology presents for the first time data on the global need for and the reality of access. The document sets out recommendations to improve the lives of millions of people with disabilities with the help of modern devices.
“Assistive technologies are life-changing: they enable children with disabilities to receive an education, adults to have employment and social contacts, and the elderly to have an independent and dignified life,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus.
He stressed that denying people wheelchairs and other devices is not only a violation of human rights but also short-sighted from an economic point of view. The head of WHO called on all countries to fund programs to access assistive technology and “give every person a chance to realize their potential.”
Today, nearly 240 million children have a disability. Denying these children the technology they need to develop harms society as a whole. UNICEF Executive Director Katherine Russell stressed that without wheelchairs and other assistive technology, children with disabilities will be denied education and will be at greater risk of child labour, stigma and discrimination.
The authors of the report believe that by 2050 the number of people who need one or more assistive devices is likely to rise to 3.5 billion. This trend is partly due to the rapid ageing of the population and the rise in non-communicable diseases.
Experts note a huge gap in access to wheelchairs between people with disabilities who live in rich and poor countries. So in industrialized countries, 90 per cent of all people with disabilities have the opportunity to use the devices they need, and in poor countries – only three percent.
The main reason for this situation is that many devices are not affordable for disabled people and their families. About two-thirds of people using assistive devices reported that they paid for them out of their own pocket. Others were helped by family members and friends.
Assistive devices are a means for people with disabilities to participate in public life and in the life of society as a whole on an equal basis with others. Without wheelchairs and other facilities, people with disabilities often find themselves isolated and living in poverty.
Access to assistive technology for children with disabilities is often the first step towards development, access to education, participation in sports and community life, and preparation for employment.