October 24, 2022

Empowering disabled children to play via early access to assistive technology

Around the world, 2.5 billion people need assistive products and services. Yet nearly one billion of them are denied access, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, where access can be as low as 3 percent of the need for these life-changing products. For children, this can mean a lifetime of being left behind. CHAI is working with partner countries to better integrate assistive technology into public systems.

All children have the right to play, learn, and thrive. Yet in parts of the world, millions of children with disabilities are denied that right because they do not have the assistive technology they need. This is one of the largest, neglected gaps in global development.

The problem is often hidden: without early access to assistive technology, like hearing aids, wheelchairs and vision aids, many disabled children are not able to easily leave their homes. Stigma and shame can also be a factor.

As a result, they are left behind and excluded from the opportunities available to their peers. Their health is also at risk as they are less likely to receive basic vaccinations and more likely to die from diarrhea, fever, and acute respiratory infection, according to the new Missing Billion report released this week.

Solutions exist but are virtually non-existent in low-resource settings.

For children with disabilities, it is critical to identify their needs early in life and quickly provide them with the assistive technology they need in order to play with their friends, go to school, and communicate with their community. Yet, few facilities offer disability screening or assistive products and services that involve play to complement routine early child development programs. When these products and services are available, the quality is often poor or ill-fitting and the prices prohibitive. For children displaced due to natural disasters or conflicts, the gap between need and access is even more stark.

“Assistive technology is a life changer – it opens the door to education for children with impairments, employment, and social interaction for adults living with disabilities, and an independent life of dignity for older persons,” said World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on the launch of the WHO’s Global Report on Assistive Technology in May. “Denying people access to these life-changing tools is not only an infringement of human rights, it is economically shortsighted.”

Helping children take back their right to play

A growing number of governments are ready to act. In the last four years, a groundswell of countries have launched first-of-their-kind policies and plans to integrate child disability screening and provision of assistive technology as part of routine healthcare and social care services for children under the age of six. CHAI is already working with governments and communities in Indonesia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and South Africa.  We have a plan to support our government partners as they begin to implement the policies that they have written:

  • Identify the needs of children with disabilities early
  • Provide access to the right assistive products, and
  • Mainstream play and play therapy across services for disabled children.

The plan is ambitious but sustainable. We will integrate these services into existing platforms. Where and how services will be delivered are tailored to each country’s context, in partnership with local civil society and organizations of persons with disabilities. For example, children can be screened during early development programs, during routine vaccination appointments, or in preschools. When children with disabilities are identified, the assistive technologies they need will be available through health facilities or schools.

Other highlights of the program include:

  • Integrate play therapy into service delivery frameworks by training therapists and increasing the number of facilities offering these services.
  • Train and involve community leaders, parents, caregivers, and health professionals to sensitize communities on disability to tackle stigma, provide peer-support, and promote early care seeking.
  • Work with suppliers and innovators to develop or introduce products that are fit for context.

Through this program, we know that we can help millions of children take back their right to play and fulfill their potential, ensuring that no child is left behind.

An opportunity to Build a World of Play

CHAI is one of ten finalists that The LEGO Foundation announced this week for its global Build a World of Play Challenge to fund bold and impactful solutions focused on early childhood. The Challenge will award a total of DKK 900 million (approximately US$117 million) to support substantial contributions to the lives of children from birth to six years old and spark a global movement to prioritize early childhood development. More details on the Build a World of Play Challenge can be found here.

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