Google project to assist sight and hearing in India, Brazil, and Kenya

Global Disability Innovation Hub, ATscale, Google
May 31, 2023

Google project to assist sight and hearing in India, Brazil, and Kenya

NAIROBI, May 31 - A research project launched on Wednesday in India, Brazil, and Kenya, could eventually benefit millions of people with vision, hearing, and other impairments, by enabling them to use smartphones and related mobile apps, project partners said.

Mobile apps can help people to read, for example, by adding colour and contrast to digital text, or even reading the text out loud. For people with hearing difficulties, apps can convert speech into text, filter out background noise, or even amplify the sound. And by installing multiple applications on a single phone, people can access multiple assistive technologies with a single device. 

“These simple technologies already exist, but for multiple reasons the rate of usage is low,” said Chris Patnoe, Google ’s Head of Accessibility and Disability Inclusion, noting that innovators in India, Brazil, and Kenya have already produced many such apps.

“This project will give us the information we need to get these vital tools to millions more people in the first three countries and beyond,” he said, ahead of the project’s launch at the Inclusive Africa Conference in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

Working with local partners and led by UCL’s Global Disability Innovation Hub (GDI Hub), the two-year project will provide a mobile device to 500 people in each of the three countries. It will then research people’s use of these apps - collectively known as digital assistive technology (AT) - and measure the impact on their quality of life. 

Some 76 percent of people in high-income countries own a mobile phone, but this figure drops to 45 percent in low- and middle-income countries, according to research by ATscale. Ownership rates tend to be significantly lower for persons with disabilities[1] .

Data and other findings from the project - which is funded by UK Aid's AT2030 programme, Google, and ATscale - will eventually be used to influence policies and shape markets, enabling more people to benefit from assistive technologies. 

“In low- and middle-income countries, many persons with disabilities could benefit hugely from mobile phones but do not own them, could not afford them, and do not know how to use the applications that could change their lives,” said Pascal Bijleveld, CEO of ATscale.

“This project will eventually look more closely at government policy and market failure, as well as demonstrate the value of these technologies to potential users,” he said.

The project will also train people with vision, hearing, and other impairments to use the technologies, enabling them to live healthier, more productive, and more dignified lives, he said.

“Mobile ownership and digital skills can be transformative for both the individuals themselves and their ability to access services, education, employment, and social activities,” said Professor Cathy Holloway. Co-founder and Academic Director of the GDI Hub, the third project partner.

“The potential is huge,” she added.

For media inquiries, please contact: 

Harrison Kamau, Communications Officer, Global Disability Innovation Hub 

Ceridwen Johnson, Advocacy and Communications Specialist, ATscale

Delia Wiliams- Falokun, Google 

About the partnering organisations

About Google 

Google’s mission is to organise the world’s information and make IT universally accessible and useful. Through products and platforms like Search, Maps, Gmail, Android, Google Play, Chrome and YouTube, Google plays a meaningful role in the daily lives of billions of people and has become one of the most widely-known companies in the world. It is committed to make technology accessible for everyone.

About GDI Hub 

University College London’s Global Disability Innovation Hub (GDI Hub) is a research and practice centre driving disability innovation for a fairer world. GDI Hub is operational in 41 countries, with more than 70 partners, the GDI Hub has reached 29 million people since launching in 2016. UCL’s GDI Hub hosts the World Health Organization’s Collaborating Centre on Assistive Technology.

About Atscale  

Some 2.5 billion people around the world need some form of AT and this figure is expected to grow to 3.5 billion by 2030. ATscale, the Global Partnership for Assistive Technology (AT), is a cross-sector partnership with a mission to transform people’s lives through AT. It catalyzes action to ensure that, by 2030, an additional 500 million people in low- and middle-income countries get the life-changing AT they need,  including eyeglasses, hearing aids, prostheses, wheelchairs, and a range of digital technologies.