Global Disability Innovation Hub and AT Innovation in India

Catherine Holloway
Aug. 2, 2019

Global Disability Innovation Hub (GDI Hub) is a new type of organization which tackles problems using a mission-focused approach; drawing in partners and disciplines as is necessary to address the challenges faced by people with disabilities globally. To ensure solutions reach as wide an audience as possible the GDI Hub is two things –an Academic Research Centre (ARC) and a Community Interest Company (CIC). A CIC is a type of not-for-profit organization based in the UK. GDI Hub has its roots firmly in East London, where the London 2012 Paralympics were held, from here we have a global programme of action. GDI has worked closely with partners in India since we were established in 2016. We present two case studies of collaboration, which address the growing need for assistive technology (AT) to bridge accessibility gaps. The first explores the research question: Can the Internet of Things be used to automate the creation of wheelchair accessible maps in fast-changing cities such as Delhi.

The study was undertaken by GDI Hub (UCL) and III-T Delhi with partners Leonard Cheshire and V-Shesh who recruited wheelchair users to map the area around Mangolpuri, Delhi. Maps were automatically created over a 2-week period and supplemented with users’ pictures of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ examples of accessibility. The results showed the method was valid, and the resulting application could map both physical and social elements of accessibility. The second looks at the 2018 Enable Makeathon, held in Bangalore and East London, through a collaboration between the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) and GDI Hub. We demonstrated that with: concentrated expertise on AT; access to AT users; encouragement to rapidly iterate designs and business development support, the concepts flourished alongside solid business models –many businesses have gone on to further success.

These two case studies helped us to learn “what works” and we have used these learnings to explore opportunities for new collaborations, which harness the changing global landscape of disability innovation. Through the UK Department of International Development (DFID) funded £20m AT2030 programme, we are again ‘testing what works’ this time globally and with a focus on ensuring all people have access to assistive technology (AT). The problems identified in a recent scoping report set out the model [3]. GDI Hub are currently developing partnerships in India as part of this programme. We conclude with reflections on how to develop a global sustainable ecosystem of innovation.