The economics of assistive technology

Chart showing return on investment for individuals, families and society.Why is some technology called “assistive” technology?  After all, isn’t all technology assistive? It seems that any technology developed for people with disability is assistive, while other technology is just, well, technology. Technologies specific to disability used to be called “aids and equipment”, but we have moved on. Smart phones are  everyday technology for most people. For people with disability they can also be an important part of a suite of technologies. 

In Australia and other countries, access to assistive technology (AT) is not automatic. It has to be applied for and justified and then a budget assigned to it. Some people have to resort to charities for help. Imagine if you had to do this for cancer treatment. Denying and delaying access to AT comes at a cost. It’s a quality of life cost and an economic cost to the wider community. Instead of talking “cost” we should be talking “investment”.

The value of providing AT is documented in a global report. The research focused on four devices, hearing aids, prostheses, eyeglasses, and wheelchairs. They found that for every one dollar invested, nine dollars are gained. That’s a return on investment of 9:1.

If we include home modifications in the suite of technologies to enhance functioning and independence, we would no doubt find similar a return on investment. It would be a better investment if homes were universally designed in the first place. This is one study that recognises the benefits to the whole family, not just the individual. This is an important point. Most people with disability do not live alone. 

The title of this important document is, The case for Investing in Assistive Technology. Replace the words “assistive technology” with built environment and housing and the report still makes sense. AT requires the rest of the world to be accessible and universally designed. That way, we can all benefit from people getting the AT they need when they need it. 

The research was funded by several international organisations. The four AT items in the research are more readily available in Australia than other countries. But there is much AT that is not readily available when it is needed. Only a very small proportion of people with disability are eligible for the NDIS.