by Lyndal Rawlands
UN, (IPS) – Wheelchairs, hearing aids, white canes and braille typewriters are just some of the products that help people with disabilities to participate fully in everyday life.
Yet for many people with disabilities in developing countries many of the most useful products are simply beyond reach.To help more people with disabilities get access to the assistance that new and old technologies can provide the World Health Organization recently launched the Priority Assistive Products List.
The list aims to work in a similar way to Essential Medicines Lists, helping governments and the private sector to increase access to the most important products.
“Now we know which are the most needed products in the world,” Chapal Khasnabis, from the World Health Organization who helped develop the list, told IPS here Tuesday.
Khasnabis said that the WHO developed the list based on the criteria of need, price, availability and impact. Priority was given to products that would be suitable for people living in the majority of countries, he added.
The list will help governments and others to prioritise spending, and may also help to bring down prices.
“Thirty years ago HIV drugs cost was hundreds of thousands of dollars and today it’s less than a hundred dollars so if that is possible than why is this not possible?,” said Khasnabis.
Since many people with disabilities remain inside their homes because they do not have the products they need to go out, suppliers don’t realise how big the market for these products actually is, he said.
“It’s not a small number of people,” he said, access will improve “once people understand that there is a big market.”
“Give these products, let people come out, let (other) people see that these people exist in the world and then things will change,” he said.
Carmen Reyes Zubiag Executive Director of the National Council on Disability Affairs in the Philippines told IPS that governments have an obligation to people with disabilities to help them gain access to these products.
“It’s just a reality that this is for the vulnerable groups and the government has to come in,” she said.
“In the Philippines there has always been a shortage of assistive technology that is affordable for persons with disabilities,” said Zubiag.
Making more products locally could help improve access but there are still other gaps which also need to be addressed.
For example, while there is now a locally made Android phone which is much cheaper, the applications which assist people who are deaf-blind are only currently available on iPhones, she said.
Different countries should use the list as a guide and can adapt it according to their needs, said Khasnabis.
The products on the list should also be adapted since different people have different needs, Rosangela Berman Bieler, Senior Advisor on Children with Disability at UNICEF, said at a meeting about the list held here Tuesday.
“A universal design is extremely important, but … we also need to show: disability is not a ‘one thing’, it is a broad range of differences in functioning,” said Bieler.
According to Bieler, who works for the UN Children’s Fund, only 10 to 15 percent of children in developing countries have access to assistive technologies.