The development of Assistive Technologies (AT) has given millions of persons with disabilities new opportunities to overcome obstacles and enjoy life to the maximum extent possible. Establishing a National Policy on Assistive Technology in India as a means of fostering social inclusion is essential.

Assistive technologies comprise a wide range of devices, equipment, software, and goods, all specifically engineered to empower persons in overcoming disabilities. From the provision of hearing aids and wheelchairs to the development of Braille devices and screen readers, these technological advancements serve as vital resources for a substantial number of individuals. Nevertheless, a considerable segment of individuals who could potentially derive advantages from these technologies are unfortunately not adequately catered to, resulting in social marginalisation and economic disparities.

A well-formulated National AT policy, which is in accordance with international agreements and human rights norms, would recognise the diverse demands of individuals with disabilities as well as the ageing population who can also get advantages from assistive devices. This can guarantee adherence to human rights and social inclusion standards.

Survey findings

To understand the AT scenario in India, the rapid Assistive Technology Assessment survey was conducted from November to December 2021, in line with the WHO’s methodology. The survey, which involved a total of 8,486 participants from eight districts covering four geographical zones, yielded findings indicating that a substantial proportion of the population encounters some kind of disability at the rate of 31.8 per cent. It is noteworthy to observe that 6.3 per cent of the individuals surveyed encountered significant or complete difficulty, highlighting the scale of the challenge. The prevalence of assistive technology need was found to be significant, with a rate of 27.8 per cent. This finding further highlights the importance of developing accessible technology solutions to meet the growing demand.

Equally noteworthy is the unfulfilled need for assistive technology, which was found to be 9.7 per cent among the individuals polled. Another observation pertains to the discovery that a majority of individuals encountering significant or complete challenges reported unfulfilled requirements, with a prevalence rate of 52.3 per cent. This suggests that those belonging to the most vulnerable sectors of society frequently encounter a lack of essential assistance.

The United Nations Convention on the Human Rights of Persons with Disabilities acknowledges the fundamental human right to access suitable assistive technology. implementation of a National Policy on Assistive Technology is not merely a discretionary measure but rather an imperative requirement. Within the expansive fabric of our nation, it is imperative to interlace a strand of fairness and inclusiveness that encompasses individuals of diverse talents and limitations.  The present moment necessitates immediate action, as the need is unequivocal: It is imperative that we establish a comprehensive National Policy on Assistive Technology in order to address the existing disparity.

The writers are with IIM Kozhikode