Around 15 per cent of the world’s population, or an estimated one billion people, live with disabilities. Most of them are in rural areas and from less privileged communities, particularly in emerging economies.
A number of organisations and communities around the world are stepping up to promote sustainable and affordable solutions for the disabled, called ‘assistive technologies.’ For example, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has mobilised an international team around a three-month ‘Enable Makeathon’ via online collaboration and onsite events in Bengaluru.
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Active participants include people with disabilities, designers, engineers, humanitarians and entrepreneurs. Some of the partners gathered in Bengaluru this week to present an update on their activities: Mohan Sundaram (Trustee, Association of People with Disability); Nihal Kashinath (Founder, IoT Bengaluru); Pavan Kumar (CEO, Workbench Projects) and Anil Singh (Physical Rehabilitation Programme Officer, ICRC).
By the end of the interaction period, it is hoped that a range of solutions and products would be ready in the form of prototypes and even business plans for social entrepreneurs. A preparatory event has been held already in Bengaluru on October 25 at IKP Eden, with other events lined up as well: Awareness Meetup (November 8), Challenge and Immersion Day to grasp enablement challenges (November 21-22), Bootcamp and Maker Days to discuss business strategy (December 18-21) and Demo Day to present solutions to incubators, investors, NGOs and the media (January 23, 2016). Prize money of $25,000, 15,000 and 10,000 will be awarded to the top three submissions, selected by an expert jury.
The combination of open-source hardware and the rise of Indian talent in ICTs can infuse new ideas and efforts into the assistive technology movement, according to Tarun Sarwal, Innovation Advisor, ICRC. The Enable Makeathon ultimately hopes to generate support and deepen the impact as well as create an ecosystem which goes beyond the three-month process of the initiative, said Mohan of APD.
“IIM-B is coming on board with its management expertise and as event sponsor. Global Shapers are bringing coaches for each team, and Swiss Nex is bringing mentors from Switzerland for design, business and prototyping support. Intellecap is here to help us scale and look for the next best/impactful product to be incubated,” said Pavan of Workbench Projects. At their November 8 meetup, like-minded people can connect with one another, peer-review ideas and find collaborators.
“Innovation in this sector is very rare as it is difficult to make a straightforward business case where the end user pays for the devices,” said Mohan Sundaram of APD. “As a startup business mentor at NSRCEL, I predominantly advocate a simple business model to get investor traction. This, however, would not hold water in social enterprise space. Lack of investor interest has thus led to lack of innovation. Investors lack the courage and fall shy of the complexity of business models,” he added.
Government policy will play a big role in bolstering and focussing energies on disability sector innovations by providing grants, setting up Centres of Excellence and government-funded projects in the education institution sector. The job of the government is to channelise resources to under-developed sectors to balance growth, development and long-term capacity building, according to Mohan.
The disability populace is under three to four per cent of the voting populace and hence gets little attention as an interest group from successive governments. Only three State governments have separate departments for empowerment of people with disability, observed Mohan. Otherwise, it comes under Child and Women Welfare, as in the case of Karnataka.
“While disability appliances and aids can be built, infrastructure also needs to be built to be able to use these devices. Our infrastructure is woefully short there and so is the law,” added Mohan. The Central government is expected to amend the Disability Act to include building code provisions for accessibility of building (including toilets) as a mandatory requirement, and enforce these laws.
The Indian government is targeting 100 smart cities – but they must also ensure that these cities are inclusive of the disabled. CSR initiatives also need to include funds for initiatives empowered the disabled. “We must create inclusion by design and not as an afterthought,” Mohan urged.
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- Pavan Kumar
- Anil Singh
- Mohan Sundaram
- Tarun Sarwal
- Child and Women Welfare
- Disability Act
- Enable Makeathon
- IKP Eden