$61 Billion Global Market for Assistive Devices by 2028

Demand for technologies to assist disabled people is rising in several countries as affordability and availability of the right devices gets easier. However, limited access to assistive technologies such as eyeglasses, hearing aids, mobility and communication devices, and a lack of trained workers remain significant challenges in meeting the needs of People with Disabilities and the elderly in most geographical regions. According to a UN report, access to assistive technologies in several low-and middle-income countries is as low as three per cent. Assistive technology is an umbrella term for devices and related services that help users live with greater independence by improving their functioning in daily activities. Globally, the market for assistive technologies for the disabled and elderly is expected to reach US$60.84 billion by 2028. Availability and affordability are major barriers to access. In developing countries, it is incredibly challenging to ensure assistive technology users have access to both products and professional services to fit the product. A report by the Global Partnership for Assistive Technology showed the unequivocal benefits in health, social inclusion and economic returns of investing in assistive technology.

Only five per cent of individuals in need in low-and-middle-income countries have a wheelchair compared to 90 per cent of those in high-income countries, according to the report. It highlighted that the supply of the four most needed products — wheelchairs, prostheses, hearing aids and eyeglasses — is not keeping up with the increasing demand Attention is now shifting from mobility devices to a whole gamut of technologies that can support people to live independently. Countries are striving to include assistive technology as part of universal healthcare. The other major barrier to access to assistive technology is workforce shortages — over 75 per cent of low-income countries have no prosthetic and orthotics training programs. One of the recommendations of the UN Report on Assistive Technology is to enlarge, diversify and improve workforce capacity. Countries need to accelerate access to affordable and appropriate assistive technology to meet their 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In the changed post-pandemic business landscape, the global market for disabled and elderly assistive technologies has been revised size. More than a billion people around the globe need assistive technology, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), but currently only one out of every 10 has access to it. There is hope that advances including digital manufacturing will make assistive technology more accessible, but there is still a need to include users in the creation process and to break assistive technologies out of their current ‘silo’.

As the pandemic has shown, more accessible technology can improve the experience for everyone. Experts say unequal access is emerging between rich and poor despite access to affordable assistive technology being a human right enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. There are other hindrances to assistive technology besides cost. One is that technology producers often fail to involve disabled people in the design and development process. This can result in unhelpful or even harmful technology. A positive example is Connected Living, an independent living app developed by Vodafone that was designed and co-created with people with a learning disability. The app pilot facilitates communication for people who are non-verbal or have a speech impediment. Another obstacle to the development of assistive technology is the fact that it is perceived as a distinct category from other user-facing techs. While there has been increased investment in assistive technology, especially since the pandemic, it is still often viewed as an ‘add-on’ to mainstream products. Software features that once were regarded as exclusive for disabled people, such as closed captions in video calls or screen reader-friendly websites, have become mainstream during the lockdown. Making technology inclusive is becoming essential to be at the forefront of technology. Over the past decade, lifestyle preferences have changed drastically on a global level and this has led to an increasing number of people adopting an independent lifestyle. Assistive technology providers are focusing on launching innovative products that are integrated with advanced technologies to enhance their productivity and efficiency. However, the integration of these advanced technologies is driving up the costs of these assistive devices and acting as a restraining factor for overall disabled and elderly assistive technology market growth. The rising geriatric population in the country is also expected to drive disabled and elderly assistive technology market potential.

High healthcare expenditure and rising awareness regarding assistive devices for the disabled and elderly are also expected to increase the market share of the assistive technology industry in this country over the coming years. The disabled and elderly assistive technologies provide devices that help to overcome cognitive difficulties, impairments, and disabilities in the disabled and geriatric population. These technologies improve health outcomes, assist in independent living, and reduce healthcare costs by lowering the cost given to manual labors in assisting patients. A WHO and UNICEF analysis suggested improving the availability and access to wheelchairs, hearing aids, or apps that support communication and cognition. Their joint report says more than 2.5 billion people need one or more assistive products, such as wheelchairs, hearing aids, or apps that support communication and cognition and yet a billion of them are denied access, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, where access can be as low as three per cent of the need for these life-changing products, said the Global Report on Assistive Technology.

Hearing aids, wheelchairs, communication aids, spectacles, prostheses, pill organizers and memory aids are all examples of assistive products. Globally, more than 2.5 billion people need one or more assistive products. With an ageing global population and a rise in non-communicable diseases, more than 3.5 billion people will need at least one assistive product by 2050, with many older people needing two or more. In several countries, access to assistive technology in the public sector is poor or non-existent. Even in high-income countries, assistive products are often rationed or not included in health and welfare schemes, leading to high out-of-pocket payments by users and their families.

It is a common policy in several European countries for the state to provide older people with only 1 hearing aid, even though most people with age-related hearing loss require 2 hearing aids to function. The assistive products industry is currently limited and specialized, primarily serving high-income markets. There is a lack of state funding, nationwide service delivery systems, user-centred research and development, procurement systems, quality and safety standards, and context-appropriate product design. The 2030 UN Agenda for Sustainable Development places good health and well-being as the basis of a new development vision. It emphasizes universal health coverage (UHC) to ensure sustainable development for all so that everyone everywhere can access the health services needed without facing financial hardship.

Universal Health Coverage can be advanced inclusively only if people can access quality assistive products when and where they need them. Technological advances in the past century have seen our world change beyond recognition and this rapid growth has seen a huge expansion in the development of assistive technology. This includes screen readers, braille displays and screen magnifiers, as well as more familiar equipment like mobility aids, hearing aids, walkers and wheelchairs, designed to make daily life easier for disabled people. Several formerly niche assistive technology applications have also developed into mainstream technologies. These include text-to-speech and verbal command functions on smartphones, which were originally developed for people with visual impairments. Improved captioning functionality has made the use of captions on digital content more widespread too. The strong link between assistive and mainstream technologies is not really that surprising, since all technologies are by their very nature, assistive.

They all help people use their varied abilities to do the things that they want or need to do, from commuting to cooking and communicating. This includes people with disabilities. Even though advancements in assistive technology have significantly improved the inclusion of people with disabilities, there is a danger that technology will be viewed as a fix-all solution to the societal barriers and exclusion that disabled people face. Many of these technological solutions focus on the individual, and not on the environment. The price gap between accessible and non-accessible products is an issue. In general, there is a wider problem that developers and designers simply do not design with disabled people in mind. A review by Teach Access found that less than three per cent of engineering and computing technology course descriptions reference “accessibility” or “people with disabilities”, and 60 per cent of industry respondents said that it was difficult or very difficult for their organization to hire candidates with accessibility skills.

Source: AccessAbilities Expo

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