Assistive Computing Technology for Enabling Differently-Abled Population in India: A User Driven Intervention

Assistive Computing Technology for Enabling Differently-Abled Population in India: A User Driven Intervention

Indrajit Bhattacharya, Anandhi Ramachandran, Nekram Upadhyay, Megha Sharma
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/ijudh.2013040104
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As per the WHO, nearly 10% of the world’s population suffers from some form of disability or impairment. The situation in developing countries is worse with growing population, aging, high prevalence of chronic diseases and vehicular accidents. It is pertinent to build institutional mechanisms for rehabilitation to help patients become self-sufficient and resource earners. Efforts are being made globally for the adoption of ‘Assistive computing technologies’ (ACT) for providing a user-driven healthcare intervention for rehabilitation of differently-abled (disabled) population. However, its adoption in India where nearly 12% of the population is disabled is abysmally low. This paper examines the feasibility of using ACT in India and explores the factors affecting its adoption. As a pilot study, the use of ACT was reviewed amongst disabled patients with spinal injuries being treated at a large private hospital in New Delhi. The study revealed that adoption of ACT by rural population is low compared to urban. Language barrier, cost and lack of awareness among the community were the main barriers to use. It was also highlighted by the respondents during the study that very few doctors and physiotherapists treating physically disabled were aware of ACT.
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According to the World Health Organization, (WHO 1976; WHO 1980), disability is any restriction or lack of ability (resulting from an impairment) to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being. This impairment in performing functions is against the normally accepted standards and is influenced by environmental factors. There is growing prevalence of disability, due to population growth, aging, emergence of chronic diseases and medical advances that are expected to preserve and prolong life (Srivastava & Khan, 2008). Disability affects quality of human life irrespective of its cause. The term ‘disabled persons’ or ‘differently abled’ are used interchangeably in the current study. Disabled individuals are often affected by chronic poverty, social exclusion and discrimination. This is more so in rural areas where the individuals are affected with severe social stigma and societal prejudices. One of the inhibiting factors preventing the ‘differently abled’ persons from active participation in social life are the barriers in the physical environment compounded by lack of basic education, knowledge about disability and rehabilitative services.

Assistive technologies (AT) are developed to help people with disabilities, to maximize their potential and increase their ability to achieve individualized objectives (Ashton, 2002). AT is defined as the technologies that are specifically developed to assist individuals with disabilities in overcoming barriers (Forgrave, 2002; Rose, 2001). It is helpful in increasing the access of an individual to their education and work environments, access and share information (Hofstetter, 2001; Seegers, 2001), perform their work independently (Schneider, 1999) and improve social interaction. AT is operated by the user rather than a clinician and hence it is user-driven approach towards rehabilitation. However, these are not enough to bring about a considerable improvement towards an assistance-free, self-sufficient functioning. While these aids and applications provide assistance and increase mobility they still cannot be used independent of external assistance in all situations (Jakovljevic & Buckley, 2011).

The ongoing trend of using assistive computing technology (ACT) solutions seems to be the answer to this problem. Information technology involves using hardware, software, and peripherals to access computers or other information technologies (IT) together with wheelchairs and walkers (FITA, 2000; Hoppestad, 2006). Individuals with impaired vision, learning disabilities, limited hand control, and other functional limitations in particular are most likely to benefit from these. The devices that are part of ACT include input devices like keyboards with large keys, sticky keys, special head or hand pointer sticks; output devices like screen magnifier and software programs such as Jaws, Kurzweil, and Dragon.

Almost two percent of the population of India is disabled. Of this sub-population, 293 million reside in rural areas and 293 million reside in urban (NSSO 2002) (Figure 1).

Figure 1.

Estimated (’00) total disabled persons in India by gender and sector (Source:NSSO, 2002)


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