Assistive technology and universal design

All the universally designed places, spaces, and services are of no use if a person cannot access them due to lack of the assistive technology they need. On the other hand, a wheelchair, for example, is of little use without level access in the built environment. Together, assistive technology and universal design form the disability inclusion continuum. Both are needed but are rarely discussed together.

The assistive technology and universal design continuum showing AT at one end an universal design at the other. In between the two meet for inclusion.
Assistive technology and universal design work together for disability inclusion

Together, assistive technology (AT) and home modifications are essential for independent living. But access to the funding schemes is somewhat haphazard, especially for the majority of people who are not NDIS participants. The cost of AT and home modifications is the cited as the reason for letting the status quo remain. But who is really paying for NOT funding AT for the people who need these devices? Until now, there has been little research on this issue.

A team at Monash University set up a study to identify the many AT and home modification schemes in Australia. They also conducted an economic analysis of the data they collected to form policy recommendations. The fact that there are 88 government funders administering 109 schemes tells us there is a problem here. Difficulties obtaining data from these schemes confounds the issues further.


The NDIS, and the misplaced assumption that it will cover everyone with a disability, has caused greater inequity in the provision of AT. It now makes the matter more urgent.

The most obvious recommendation is to take a whole of government approach to tackle the inequity of access to AT and home modifications. The second, is to devise a way of capturing data for more informed decision making. Data are essential for measuring needs and outcomes. The third recommendation is to co-design – a universal design concept – with stakeholders.

Governments cannot expect to achieve significant change within Australia’s new Disability Strategy unless people with disability have access to AT and HM they need. The current study offers new evidence to inform government responses to realise the potential of AT and HM through public policy reform.

Assistive technology was peviously known as “aids and equipment for people with disability”. That’s because it is not mainstream equipment such as a pair of scissors, or a bicycle. Anyone requiring assistive technology requires a prescription by a health professional to access a funding scheme. The same goes for anyone requiring a home modification so they can live safely at home.

The title of the paper is, It is time for nationally equitable access to assistive technology and home modifications in Australia: An equity benchmarking study. It is open access.

From the abstract

Australians with disability have inequitable access to assistive technology (AT) and home modifications (HM). This is inconsistent with human rights obligations and fails to capitalise on internationally recognised potential return on investment.

This study quantifies the public provision of AT and HM in Australia by identifying all publicly funded schemes and comparing data on the spend per person.

An environmental scan and data survey identified 88 government funders administering 109 schemes. Data were available for 1/3 of schemes. Economic evaluation of available cost and participant data estimated the annual AT/HM spend per person per scheme.

Data demonstrated significant AT/HM spend variability across schemes. Modelled costs are presented for a $16 billion national scheme where all Australians with disability are funded NDIS-equivalent. There are substantial service provision gaps and an urgent need for change in disability policy. A cost model and policy principles are proposed to achieve economies of scale and equity in the provision of AT and HM.

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