Assistive Technology on the world stage – By Gerri Clay, ILC CEO

Gerri Clay

Reading the vision of the World Health Organisations (WHO) Global Cooperation on Assistive Technology (GATE) initiative is inspirational.  “A world where every girl, boy, woman and man in need has access to high quality affordable assistive products to lead a healthy, productive and dignified life”.

The WHO is leading the flagship GATE program in partnership with consumers, governments, industry stakeholders, manufacturers and suppliers. The GATE initiative has only one specific goal – to improve access to high-quality affordable assistive health products, responding to the call to increase access to essential, high-quality, safe, effective and affordable medical products.

The facts speak loudly. It is estimated that only 1 in 10 people in need have access to assistive technologies, added to this the population is ageing and chronic disease conditions are increasing.

The WHO are proactively seeking solutions and in doing so will be directly responding to Article 32 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, working to build international cooperation to address this rising issue.

Early initiatives include development of a model list of priority assistive products – identifying the 50 most needed assistive products which every country should make available at an affordable cost to its citizens. A Global Survey to gather this data was launched during the week of International Day of Persons with Disabilities and the GATE initiative was further enhanced by an article published in The Lancet – Opening the GATE to inclusion for people with disabilities.

Also on the agenda is the development of comprehensive training programs, support for a single point service provision model in individual countries, alongside the development of a national assistive technology (AT) policy framework.

Recently the work of GATE has received interest and support within Australia and the Asia Pacific region.

On the home front it’s fair to say some of the core elements of sound assistive technology practise, procurement and systems are well established.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme in Australia has heightened awareness about AT, and is projecting a significant increase in expenditure in the coming years as individuals choose to use their funding to increase their independence through purchasing more equipment and home modifications.  The National Disability Insurance Agency has developed a National Assistive Technology Policy and work is in progress to develop strategies to implement the policy across Australia. Assistive technology is critical to the lives of people living with a disability and we are seeing the Disability arena leading the way with policy and systems reform.

Reform within the Aged Care arena has gone as far as to identify that assistive technologies and home modifications have a role in enhancing the provision of care in the community. However, considerable work needs to occur to formulate policy, systems and strategies to make these accessible and affordable for older people.

Earlier this year I was fortunate to attend the meeting of the European Assistive Technology Information Network (EASTIN) held in Romania. The common connection for network members is the importance and value of assistive technology, and the practicalities of how AT product information is stored onto databases. Many of the countries present have their own equipment database and share their data with the centralised EASTIN database.   Dissemination of information about assistive technology and raising public awareness are becoming important strategic objectives of the EASTIN network.

In Australia, the Independent Living Centre WA along with other states and territories use the National Equipment Database, fondly called NED, to store information and make it accessible to consumers and stakeholders.

There are those odd moments in time when we can be forgiven for thinking that the planets are aligning for the greater benefit of mankind. Assistive technology is the current beneficiary.

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