As we age, it is common to experience functional limitations and changes in hearing, vision, mobility, or memory. Technology can help us deal with these changes by supporting independent living, aging in place, and ultimately, aiding health and longevity. Yet, something known as assistive technology (AT) is far from a household term in Canada.
AT encompasses everything from low-tech tools to complex digital devices and products that may be used at home, in the workplace, and in the community to provide solutions that reduce barriers. Examples include hearing aids, medication management systems, health/wellness devices, voice interfaces, specialized software, home or vehicle modifications, and much more. Inevitably, as we either get older or experience disabilities, many of us will need one or more AT products or services.
AT also refers to the awareness, training and technical support that is needed for the safe and effective use of such products. It is an entire ecosystem in itself.
An aging population creates a compelling argument for making AT a priority. The World Health Organization (WHO) is drawing attention to the need. In its first ever Global Report on Assistive Technology, released in May 2022, the WHO states the issue “deserves greater attention now than ever before.” The report outlines recommendations to expand availability, raise awareness, and implement inclusion policies and an enabling environment.
“Assistive technology is a life changer … Denying people access to these tools is not only an infringement of human rights, it’s economically shortsighted. We call on all countries to fund and prioritize access to assistive technology and give everyone a chance to live up to their potential," said WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
While there are many gaps and barriers to the acquisition of AT in Canada, it is not a luxury. Shown to have a transformative impact on end users, it's time to make AT a household term.
Holistically designed AT programs are needed to serve aging populations and persons with disabilities; programs that can support daily living needs and aging in place. These will reduce health care costs and hospital re-admissions, improve caregiver support, and create a better quality of life and well-being for users and their families.
AT must not be viewed through a cost lens; it must be considered a sound socio-economic investment by all stakeholders, including funders and all levels of government.
Sheena Jaffer is a member of Age Friendly Edmonton’s leadership team and is a Certified Aging Services Professional (CASP) and a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS).