Author: Ravi Narayan.
In its latest report, World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that over a billion people around the world live with disabilities today. Some were born with it, some developed it overtime due to health reasons or other factors like accidents or natural disasters. No matter how they are affected, each of their struggle is real – to live their lives with a certain degree of normalcy and dignity. There are many who have stepped forward to build technology solutions that can help this sizable part of our world population. This ‘Assistive Technology’ space has remained as an underserved space for long, and doesn’t get attention of the mainstream; slowly but gradually, innovators are growing, reaching out and helping more people lead a more fulfilled life.
The challenges for these innovators remain the same around the world – difficulty to raise funds, access to consumers and the right disability domain experts. The disability market itself is quite fragmented, and without any established channels to reach them. A significant number of these innovations are born in education institutions and do not achieve large scale distribution due to lack of a supporting ecosystem. In India, the disabled population stands at 26.8 million (2.21% of total Indian population). Like rest of the world, many of them do not have access to internet and rely on their families, NGOs and government organisations to help them find the right solutions to their challenges.
Samarthanam Trust for Disabled has been working relentlessly for over two decades to improve lives of these people around the country. The Trust recognized that technology is the underlying theme to help more people. With that thought, in November 2018, Assistive Technology Accelerator (ATA) was founded with a mission to create a nurturing environment for the assistive technologies to grow, thus helping these 26.8 million in India and even more around the world.
We are extremely grateful by the support extended from the Karnataka Government right from the beginning and are positive that this will encourage more local and national governments to join hands with us. This India’s first Centre of Excellence (CoE) for Assistive Technology start-ups aims to bring in technology innovation, reduce cost of solutions, Increase availability of Assistive products to disabled population. Innovation is happening in third world countries as well, but need a way to come up to the global markets, and this accelerator is the first step towards it.
ATA will aid in developing solutions that can help create positive impact in areas like Social Inclusion, Economic Independence, Accessibility – Physical & Web, Independent Mobility, Empowerment through Technology, Employment. This ATA is first of its kind in Asia, and fourth in the world. With its panel of domain experts and investors, the ATA will help the startups build more scalable business models and make it affordable to larger population.
According to WHO, only 1 in 10 people in need have access to assistive products, and by 2030 over 2 Billion will need at least 1. One of the main challenges startups face when it comes to assistive technologies, buyers and users are different, which makes outreach difficult for them. We at the ATA, plan to bring together NGOs, disability associations, Government, other assistive tech labs, corporates and educational institute, and make it easier for the startups to bring these technologies, since they cannot be governed by the dynamics of market, given their special audiences. The accelerator will provide startups access to the Disabled Community (Beneficiaries, NGOs, Experts) and help them build better products and scalable business models. The ATA will also help the startups with raising funds and build distribution channels for their solutions.
In coming months, through events, reports and other ways, we will be creating more opportunities that will bring the stakeholders of the assistive technology ecosystem – government, startups, consumers, corporates and NGOs together. This will generate conversations that will build a more robust ecosystem of assistive technologies and improve lives of the millions of disabled people around the world. Working with government is a key objective for the ATA team. Governments, local and national, have funds, but their spending is limited, due to limited exposure to technology. ATA can help the government in overcoming that. This also helps startups getting access to various government programs that can use their solutions, as well as various corporate and NGOs who look to the government for advice and direction. The ATA also plans to work with the authorities in policy building and distribution channels. For instance, the multi-purpose rehabilitation workers (MRW) and village rehabilitation workers (VRW) can be leveraged for distribution for these startups’ products.
Together, with our network of mentors, investors, corporates we are looking forward to build solutions that will help the millions in India and around the world.