SEATTLE — Assistive technology (AT) is equipment used to increase or maintain the functional capabilities of people with disabilities. From prosthetics to educational software, different disabilities necessitate different assistive technologies. In developing countries, it has been estimated that nine out of 10 people in need of assistive technology do not receive it. This negatively affects both those with disabilities and their community. Without assistive technology, people with disabilities lead less productive lives and their communities suffer without the utilization of precious human capital.
AT-Info-Map Looks to Fill a Gap in Access to Assistive Technology in Africa
Around 85 to 95 percent of people in need of assistive technology in Africa do not receive it. The largest obstacles in southern Africa to acquiring assistive technology are a lack of knowledge of the availability of AT equipment, a shortage of service providers and a lack of prerequisite funds. To meet this need, and in conjunction with funding through the Google Impact Challenge, the Assistive Technology Information Mapping Project (AT-Info-Map) was launched in April 2016. The project has other partners, notably the University of Washington and Dimagi. The purpose of the AT-Info-Map Project is to improve access to assistive technologies in southern Africa and, eventually, other developing countries.
Using a mobile app designed by Dimagi, the AT-Info-Map Project is currently mapping and organizing assistive technology suppliers, products and service providers in 10 southern African countries. The mobile app takes this information and helps those seeking assistive technology in Africa easily locate the AT they need. Further, the app provides a user-friendly mechanism to efficiently connect users to a local vendor to purchase the equipment.
Study Demonstrates Success of AT-Info-Map Program in Botswana
A pilot program for the AT-Info-Map mobile application was launched in Botswana in 2016. A recent study set out to determine the effectiveness of the first run of the application. Released in 2018, the case study concluded a generally positive result from the pilot program. Participants in the program, service providers and representatives from NGOs in Botswana were excited by the AT-Info-Map mobile application. The study stated that many participants liked the location service of the app, which helped users find the nearest supplier for their assistive technology needs.
While many expressed their desire to continue using the application, some obstacles did show themselves along the way. Many people with disabilities could not afford a mobile device, partly because these devices are expensive in Botswana and partly because of the high poverty rates among people with disabilities. To make matters worse, telecommunications in sub-Saharan Africa are generally underdeveloped. In struggling communities within an already developing region, this leads to low acquisition rates of AT, and the issue is compounded when people with disabilities do not have the tools to find the equipment they need.
In response to these obstacles, in early 2018 AT-Info-Map launched the Assistive Technology Database, which puts content from the mobile app onto a website so that there are more options for potential users to find assistive technology.
In part because of the early success of the AT-Info-Map mobile application in Botswana, the organization has begun expanding its scope of operation. In February 2018, the organization released plans to expand into five more African countries: Mozambique, Angola, Swaziland, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
The acquisition of assistive technology in Africa and other developing regions of the world allows people with disabilities to live far more productive and fulfilling lives. There is a massive gap in acquisition rates of AT between developed and developing countries. Poverty and geographic isolation prevent many from getting the equipment they need. Through programs like AT-Info-Map, the unmet need for local, cost-effective and quality equipment can be fulfilled in the developing world and the poverty-stricken communities within it.
– Peter Buffo