The World Health Organization defines Assistive Technology as any item, product system or piece of equipment that can be used to increase, maintain or improve the functional capabilities of a person with disability.
Products like motorized wheelchair, mobility canes for visually impaired, prosthetic organs, Text to speech devices, screen readers, hearing aids and many other assistive devices help people with disabilities to perform day-to-day functions that they are otherwise unable to perform on their own. As per a World Health Organization report, more than 1 billion people with disabilities or age related issues require one or more than one product with Assistive Technology.
Speaking to News Sense, Payel Das, Country Head for Scanning Pens Ltd, a UK based Global Assistive Technology Company that supports Learning Disabilities says, “we have been working since the last couple of years on creating awareness about hidden disabilities like Specific Learning Disabilities, which are now covered under the PWD Act, 2016. However, its shocking to see the extreme low levels of awareness about the conditions among schools, educators and parents. In India, mostly people do not want their wards to be labeled and there is a certain degree of stigma attached to it. So, children are clearly bashed for being lazy while all they need is remediation and support”.
Payel who has won the “Indian Thought Leader Award” for her contribution towards Assistive Technology in India and works primarily in the education sector.
The cost of products in a price sensitive market like India is a major deterrent in making Assistive Technology accessible for all those who need it. Lack of Government funding and clearly laid down policies make it difficult for adoption of Assistive Technology at large.
A number of start-ups and incubators have come up with some innovative solutions to address this issue, but it is a very fragmented market with a huge gap that needs more attention and support. Screening for the disabilities, assessment and certification again is a daunting task for parents and there are no clearly laid out policies that enable availing of access arrangements for learning disabled students.
Only few schools in India have special educators and a team to address disabilities and offer remedial education. Most schools do not have support systems in place, or even if there is, it’s not implemented and exists mostly on papers.
The sheer lack of accessibility, eligibility and affordability are the main bottlenecks towards adoption of Assistive Technology in India. Increased awareness levels, availability of government funds for making it available to people in need, clearly laid down policies that are implemented on the ground are major hindrances that is holding the access of Assistive Technology services for the disabled and the elderly in India.
Report: Joydeep Dasgupta, Editor, News Sense