Assistive Technology Report Brings More Transparency to Market
For many, access to assistive technology can enable independent everyday life.

Only one in five of the people in need of hearing aids and prostheses worldwide can access them, according to a new report by ATscale, a global partnership for assistive technologies and the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI).

Assistive technology (AT) is any device and related systems that can help with everyday activities, improving or restoring the capabilities of a person’s body, ranging from eyeglasses, access ramps, prostheses or smartphones for functionalities such as the text-to-speech option.

The report, issued on the first-ever Day for Assistive Technology, aims to make assistive technology markets more transparent and easier to navigate for the public sector and producers. 

The hope is that comprehensive information will facilitate the choice of quality products, especially for governments in low- and middle-income countries, and encourage companies to expand their reach to new regions of operation, explained Pascal Bijleveld, CEO of ATscale in an interview for Health Policy Watch.

“It’s really about addressing one of the bottlenecks to access, which is the lack of transparency in the markets about what products are available, what are the price ranges, what’s the quality, and so on and so forth,” Bijleveld said.

Many governments lack the capacity to analyse and understand each of the markets and may make sub-optimal product choices.

It is also essential to raise awareness about the benefits of assistive technology and to start public and private initiatives to ensure more people, especially in low-income countries, can attain the AT they need. 

Large gap in access

Getting a AT of need is often the key to a more independent, full life for people with disabilities, unlocking a possibility to live independently, meet with family and friends, study, or work.

Globally, 2.5 billion people need at least one assistive product with the number expected to reach 3.5 billion by 2050 as the world population ages, WHO’s and UNICEF’s report shows. Even though 90% of people in need of an AT in high-income countries can access it, the number drops drastically to only 10% in low- and middle-income countries.

There is a nine-to-one return on investment from providing AT, thanks to unlocked educational outcomes, better paid employment and lower longer-term healthcare costs, an ATscale study from 2022 highlights.

The report systematically analyses markets for several most popular technologies: wheelchairs, glasses, augmentative communication, screen readers, and smartphones. 

Hearing aids, glasses and other assistive technologies can be prohibitively expensive. Taken for granted in wealthy countries, these simple technologies are out of reach for millions globally.

It lists the product types available, describes market specifics and enumerates some of the most important features. For hearing aids, for example, approximately 20 million units are sold annually, with the main market drivers being the ageing population. 

When picking the right device, it’s important to consider its ability to manage background noise and acoustic loops, its resilience against mild shocks, dust or rain, volume control and overall design. Those and other features are tested by several control agencies; to help navigate the market, the report provides a comprehensive list of producers and certificates held by their devices.

The report is only the first step, Bijleveld said and will be changed over the next couple of months into “a web-based platform that will be continuously updated”.

 Producers themselves will want to keep this interactive source of information up to date as a potential advertisement for their products and a guide to the overall market situation.

Raising awareness about the benefits of ATs is on the top of ATscale’s agenda. ”People need to get the word out there,” Bijleveld stressed.

Image Credits: CC.

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