When there’s no app for that: Data for transforming access to assistive technology.

It’s not uncommon to hear “The world needs more data”, among policy-makers, planners and researchers.

survey team in Mongolia stops for a visit with a falconer

But, data are everywhere. On your phone, most times we buy or sell something, turn on the TV, and just about every time we step outside our doors - there’s data about it. The amount of data is now measured in zetabytes, and we’ll probably need whatever comes after that soon enough.

Big business and government use this data to target alarmingly specific advertising directly to our eyeballs and make strategic choices about how to provide services, sell more stuff, and we hope – generally make life a bit better. Of course, we are rightly concerned there’s too much data, and that in the wrong hands, it is weaponised and dangerous.

But, sadly, where we need data the most, it’s often hardest to get. One example is our work to learn more about who experiences disability around the world: how disability affects lives, and how the world can be a more disability-inclusive place by re-thinking how services, including health, are provided.

So, without an ‘app for that’, sometimes getting information needs a bit of old fashioned elbow-grease. Our team is supporting the World Health Organization to generate information with the potential to transform how policy choices are made to ensure people have access to the assistive products they need.

In the last months, our work has turned to support teams in some unique geographical conditions. With collaborators in Mongolia, Bhutan, Myanmar and Indonesia (and many other countries before and since), teams of enumerators have door-knocked, interviewed and learned from thousands of people. And yes, there’s an app for that, but it needs people to use it.

Digital transformation of health and health planning will change the game forever, but our work is an example of what is sometimes needed to get the job done in the meantime: a coordinated team, careful survey design and planning, and a shared sense of contributing to solutions to health inequities.

The Nossal Institute worked with WHO to develop a Rapid Assistive Technology Assessment (rATA) survey tool, designed to gather information about the met and unmet needs for assistive technology in a given context. We have developed and delivered a master training package to support WHO Assistive Technology (AT) team in the  in-country implementation of rATA survey.

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Wesley Pryor