This blog delves into the barriers people with disabilities face in accessing assistive technologies and the significance of government subsidies in making these products affordable and promoting economic integration. It highlights the advantages of assistive technologies and government initiatives and stresses the importance of collaboration to create a more inclusive society.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), approximately 16% of the population worldwide comprises people with disabilities (PwDs). It equals 1.3 billion people, or one in every six individuals (WHO, 2021). According to the 2011 Indian Census, there were approximately 26.8 million PwDs in India, representing about 2.2% of the country’s population (Census of India, 2011). However, this figure may not be an accurate estimate as disability remains stigmatised and underreported in many parts of the country. Most PwDs experience a lack of opportunities due to stereotypical biases, prejudices, and limited resource access. Affordable and accessible assistive products and technologies can help bridge this gap and reduce poverty among PwDs. Such products can enable PwDs to lead more independent lives and access better education and employment opportunities, thus improving their overall life quality.
Challenges in Accessing Assistive Technologies
According to a report by UNICEF and WHO (2019), 2.5 billion PwDs require assistive products to lead independent lives, and this figure is projected to rise to 3.5 billion by 2050. Despite the increasing demand for assistive products, their access remains challenging for PwDs in low-and middle-income countries. Issues around lack of product quality, durability, standardisation, awareness, availability, and affordability create significant barriers for PwDs, especially in remote and rural areas. It limits their ability to integrate into society and access economic opportunities.
Need for Subsidised Assistive Technologies
National and state-level policies must be revised to overcome these challenges. The government must adopt measures such as tax incentives, exempting import duties, providing government-funded grants in research and development of assistive technologies and products, and partnering with disability advocacy groups for increased awareness, outreach, and market linkages to make these technologies affordable and accessible. Subsidised assistive technologies, coupled with increased budgetary allocations for the welfare of PwDs, can significantly improve their standard of living and promote their economic integration.
Benefits of Assistive Technologies
Assistive technologies are vital for enhancing the social and psychological well-being of PwDs. The availability of standardised, long-lasting assistive products can enable PwDs to access mainstream educational institutions, improve their workplace and social engagements, and achieve better job outcomes. Additionally, these technologies can help PwDs live more independently, reducing their reliance on long-term caregivers and other support services.
Training and Integration
Along with providing subsidised assistive technologies, educating, and sensitising teachers, mentors, and business personnel in disability etiquette is critical in addressing the needs of PwDs. Adopting these measures will enable better integration of students and employees with disabilities into mainstream education and workplace settings and guarantee better social, psychological, and economic outcomes.
The Indian government has launched several initiatives to promote the use of assistive technologies for PwDs. Some of these initiatives are listed below.
- Assistance to PwDs for purchasing/fitting aids/appliances (ADIP) scheme: The ADIP scheme by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment will help PwDs procure standardised, scientifically manufactured, and durable aids and appliances.
- Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan: This initiative aims to create an accessible and inclusive environment for PwDs by making public spaces, transportation, and information and communication technology (ICT) accessible.
- Accessible India Campaign: This campaign aims to make government buildings, public transportation, and information and communication technology (ICT) accessible to PwDs.
- National Action Plan for Skill Development of PwDs: This initiative aims to provide skill training and employment opportunities for PwDs to promote their economic independence.
- Swavalamban Scheme: This scheme provides financial assistance to PwDs to start businesses and become self-employed.
- Scheme for Implementation of Persons with Disabilities Act (SIPDA): This scheme aims to implement the provisions of the PwDs (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, and provide equal opportunities and protection of rights to them.
- Assistive Devices Programme: This programme is run by the Artificial Limbs Manufacturing Corporation of India (ALIMCO) and provides affordable and high-quality assistive devices like prosthetics, orthotics, and hearing aids to PwDs. Such initiatives can go a long way in promoting the economic integration of PwDs.
These initiatives aim to create an inclusive environment, provide skill training and employment opportunities, and make government buildings, public transportation, and information and communication technology accessible to PwDs.
Despite the above initiatives, there is a pressing need for more robust policies to ensure easy access of assistive technologies to PwDs. Few such policy alterations supported by global and Indian data are listed below.
- Exempt assistive devices from GST: According to a study by the Indian Journal of Occupational Therapy, the cost of assistive devices is a significant barrier to accessibility for PwDs in India (Singh et al., 2019). To address this, the government could exempt assistive devices from GST, making them more affordable for PwDs.
- Develop a national registry of assistive devices: A study by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information found that the lack of information about assistive devices is a significant barrier to accessibility for PwDs in India (Gupta et al., 2015). To address this, the government could develop a national registry of assistive devices, providing PwDs with information about the availability and cost of different devices.
- Provide funding and incentives for research, development, and manufacture of low-cost assistive devices: Assistive devices can be expensive, especially for impoverished people. The government could increase funding for research and development of low-cost assistive devices. It could be achieved through partnerships between the government, universities, and the private sector. To encourage the production of such devices, the government could provide incentives for manufacturers, such as tax exemptions or subsidies.
- Implement a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS): NDIS is a government-funded program that provides PwDs with the financial support they need to purchase assistive devices and other supports. Australia, for example, has a NDIS that has successfully improved the lives of PwDs (Butteriss,2012). In India, a study found that only 29% of people with disabilities own assistive devices, while 71% have unmet needs (Karki et al., 2021). NDIS could help address this gap by providing people with disabilities with the financial support they need to purchase assistive devices.
References: Census of India. (2011). Disabled population by type of disability, age and sex. Retrieved from https://censusindia.gov.in/Census_And_You/disabled_population_by_type.aspx.
World Health Organization & United Nations Children’s Fund. (2019).Assistive Technology for Children with Disabilities: An Overview. https://www.unicef.org/disabilities/files/Assistive-technology-briefing-note-2019.pdf
World Health Organization. (2021). Disability. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/disability.
Butteriss, M. A. (2012). NDIS: In context. Journal of Social Inclusion, 3(2), 102-107.World Health Organization. (2011). World report on disability. WHO Press.
Gupta, N., Arora, S., Gupta, S., & Sharma, S. (2017). Assistive technology in India: A study of National Institute of Speech and Hearing. Indian Journal of Otolaryngology and Head & Neck Surgery, 69(2), 199-204.
Singh, V. P., & Mahato, D. K. (2019). Assistive technology in India: Need, challenges, and future directions. Indian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 51(2), 44-48.
Karki, J., Rushton, S., Bhattarai, S. P., & De Witte, L. P. (2021). Access to assistive technology for persons with disabilities: a critical review from Nepal, India and Bangladesh. Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology. https://doi.org/10.1080/17483107.2021.1892843
Author Bio: Richa Sahni, a student of AMPPP Co’23, is the Director at Stay Made Simple Pvt. Ltd. She is an accomplished entrepreneur with over two decades of experience across diverse sectors including corporate and social sectors. She holds a bachelor’s degree in IT from Delhi University and a Diploma in Business Management from ICFAI.
DISCLAIMER : The views expressed in this blog/article are author’s personal.