Assistive devices

Assistive devices are enabling tools for persons with disabilities to communicate and participate in social, economic and cultural aspects of society. Assistive devices can differ depending on an individual's requirements: examples include crutches, wheelchairs, white canes, hearing aids and accessibility software for computers. Evidence to date has shown that access to mobility aids, assistive devices and latest developments in technology can result in improved capacity, self-confidence, social participation and an improved quality of life for persons with disabilities in both low and high-income countries. From a development perspective, information and communication technologies play a key role in delivering positive development outcomes. Yet research has shown that persons with disabilities encounter barriers in accessing available and affordable devices and technologies.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) contains several articles requiring all governments to promote the availability, knowledge and use of assistive devices and technologies as they relate to habilitation and rehabilitation (Article 26) and to promote access to appropriate mobility aids for persons with disabilities at affordable cost (Article 20). It also requires international cooperation activities undertaken by the international community to facilitate access to quality assistive technologies, for instance by making them available at affordable cost (Article 32).

The World Health Organization is increasing its focus on this area, and its Action Plan 2014–2021 outlines evidence, gaps and opportunities, as well as proposed actions for governments and the international community in relation to assistive devices.

Resources provided below include links to relevant surveys and research papers, position papers and fact sheets and to World Health Organization guidelines, resolutions, and Action Plans. Guidelines exist for the provision of mobility devices in less resourced settings, and there is a need for guidance on the provision of various other appropriate assistive devices, to ensure sustainable provision, fitting, repair and maintenance where support services may be less available.

See also: Information and Communication Technologies, Community Based Rehabilitation, Health, Children and Youth with Disabilities

World Health Assembly (2018) Resolution WHA71.8 Improving access to assistive technology PDF

This resolution made by the World Health Assembly in 2018 is recognised as a call to action and the basis for the development of a mandate in the assistive technology sector, especially with consideration to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Motivation Australia WHO wheelchair service training package Website page with links to the resource in PDF (accessible formats and other languages also availabl

Training courses were developed by WHO to assist services in implementing the WHO Guidelines on the provision of manual wheelchairs in less resourced setting. They are intended for wheelchair service personnel in less resourced settings to be trained in comprehensive wheelchair service provision and enable increasing numbers of adults and children to receive a wheelchair which meets their needs. WHO also recognises that trained personnel require support from managers and national stakeholders to ensure appropriate wheelchair provision is established and sustained within a country. To raise awareness and promote good practice, WHO developed a training package for managers, and a training package for stakeholders. Included in this link are the basic and intermediate level training packages, the manager and stakeholder training packages. It also includes the training of trainers package.

Guidelines Steering Committee (2016) National Guidelines on the Provision of Assistive Technology in Papua New Guinea Accessible PDF (4.92 MB)

These Guidelines support and guide best practice service delivery for assistive technology in PNG, in line with the Government’s commitments to persons with disabilities. While designed specifically for PNG, many of the concepts in the guidelines are applicable more broadly in Pacific Island contexts and may help inform programs looking to invest in this area. The Guidelines particularly highlight the importance of providing assistive technology as part of a service system equipped with trained personnel and appropriate products.

World Health Organisation (2016) WHO Priority Assistive Products List Website with link to PDF

To support and improve access to high quality, affordable assistive products globally, the WHO has introduced the Priority Assistive Products List (APL). It lists 50 priority assistive products and is intended to guide and support Member States to fulfil their commitment to improving access to assistive products as mandated by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). It is useful for guiding programs looking to invest in the area of assistive technology.

Borg J (2011) Assistive technology, human rights and poverty in developing countries: Perspectives based on a study in Bangladesh (PDF, 563 KB)

The findings of this doctoral thesis offer support for addressing human rights deprivation and poverty among persons with disabilities through provision of assistive technology on theoretical, legal and empirical grounds. This thesis is useful for those seeking to understand how assistive technology service provision is a human rights issue which can contribute to poverty.

Global Alliance on Accessible Technologies and Environments (GAATES)

GAATES is an international organisation which promotes the understanding and implementation of accessibility of the built, social and virtual environments, including architectural, infrastructural design, transportation systems, habitat, and electronic information and communication technologies. GAATES produces a regular newsletter which outlines assistive technology developments, including news from developing countries. The GAATES website and newsletter is of interest to individuals seeking to remain up-to-date with advancements in the assistive technology sector.

World Health Assembly (2005) World Health Assembly Resolution WHA58.23, Disability, including prevention, management and rehabilitation (PDF 21 KB)

This resolution made by the World Health Assembly in 2005 is recognised as a call to action and the basis for the development of a mandate in the assistive technology sector. While significant progress has been made since this Resolution, it remains a key document and continues to provide the basis for advocacy and action items on future agendas related to assistive devices and disability prevention, management and rehabilitation.

World Health Organization and USAID (2011) Joint position paper on the provision of mobility devices in less-resourced settings: A step towards implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) related to perso (PDF 1.75 MB)

This paper aims to guide and support nations, especially developing countries, in the implementation of relevant articles of the UNCRPD associated with the provision of assistive technology, with a focus on mobility devices.

World Health Organization and World Bank (2011) World report on disability (PDF 10.4 MB) Also available in French, Portuguese and Spanish

Chapters 4, 5 and 6 of this report address issues and evidence surrounding access to assistive devices and technology, the unmet need, the role of assistive devices and technology in rehabilitation and enhancing access to wider life opportunities, and their potential to reduce the need of older persons with disabilities to rely on carers. Recommendations in Chapter 4 include the need to increase access to assistive technology that is appropriate, sustainable, affordable, and accessible.

World Health Organization (2010) Community based rehabilitation guidelines (3.9 MB)

The ‘Health Component’ chapter of these guidelines includes a section on Assistive Devices (pages 57-72) which provides introductory material targeted at mid-level health workers. It explains in clear language what assistive devices are and covers topics such as appropriate technology, assessment, training, facilitating access, and setting up small scale workshops. Case studies are provided from a range of countries.

World Health Organization (2013) Draft global disability action plan 2014-2021: Better health for all people with disabilities

Increasing access to assistive technology is an important WHO objective, and this plan documents this mandate for initiatives in assistive technology. The plan is a key resource for stakeholders intending to plan investments to support strengthened assistive device policy and services in developing countries.

International Program on Disability, Technology and Rehabilitation (IPDTR)

IPDTR serves as a (US based) networking hub for individuals working to address the technology and rehabilitation needs of persons with disabilities in developing countries. The resources page of the website is of particular use to individuals seeking more detailed information about assistive technology issues, tools and actors. The events page contains presentations and Youtube videos from a June 2013 Symposium on disability, technology and rehabilitation in low and middle income countries held at the University of Washington, Seattle, USA.

World Health Organization (2008) Guidelines on the provision of manual wheelchairs in less resourced settings (PDF 2.47 MB)

These guidelines outline good practices in the design, production, supply and service delivery of manual wheelchairs. They are much needed to counter potentially inappropriate or harmful interventions. The guidelines are targeted at a range of audiences, including policy-makers; planners, managers, providers and users of wheelchair services; designers, purchasers, donors and adapters of wheelchairs, trainers of wheelchair provision programmes, representatives of DPOs; and individual users and their families. Compliance with these guidelines would strengthen the suitability and sustainability of service provision and improve development effectiveness in this area.

World Health Organization Assistive devices/technologies

This website provides links to pages which describe the activities of WHO in relation to assistive devices/technologies, and to a small number of useful resources. The WHO leads global efforts toward increasing access to quality assistive technologies; this webpage provides a useful introduction to current efforts and discourse.

There are no case studies available

Washington Group on Disability Statistics technical presentation

Jennifer H. Madans Ph.D., Associate Director for Science, National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) and Mitchell Loeb,
Health Scientist, NCHS from the secretariat of the Washington Group on Disability Statistics delivered a technical session
on how to use the Washington Group questions in monitoring data systems and how to disaggregate data by disability
followed by a question and answer session at the University of Melbourne on Thursday, 30 April 2015. The presentation
was organised by the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Presentation from the Washington Group on Disability Statistics
Picture of a teenage boy from Tanzania sitting in his wheelchair whilst it is being adjusted. There are two technicians carrying out the repairs, one of the technicians is also a wheelchair user. His mother is watching the process from behind.

Photo: Thomas Einberger, 2010

Abdullah Munish is a Quality Control Supervisor at the House of Hope (CCBRT) in Tanzania. Abdullah (right) and Massue Remy (left) are adjusting the wheelchair of David* (13 years old) while David’s mother looks on. (*pseudonym used) Copyright: CBM/argum/Einberger