UCL and Indian partners to drive disability innovation through assistive technology

July 13, 2023

The Global Disability Innovation Hub (GDI Hub) at UCL has announced a new collaboration with the Indian Institute of Technology to support disability inclusion.

The academic research and practice centre, based at UCL East, signed a new Memorandum of Understanding with colleagues from the Assistech Lab at Indian Institute of Technology Delhi (IIT Delhi) and R2D2 lab at Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT Madras).

As leaders in assistive technology (AT) research, the organisations plan to jointly deliver a collaborative AT Accelerator Program, an AT Innovation Portal, and an AT Academic Innovation Partnership to drive knowledge across different markets.

Assistive technology is needed by 1.13 billion people worldwide and the GDI Hub aims to collaborate with global partners to drive thinking, understanding and knowledge in the area. The new strategic innovation programmes will foster partnerships with Indian Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs), industry and governments and facilitate the dissemination of knowledge about disability, AT, and innovation to emerging ventures within the disability innovation space.

GDI Hub is also delighted to award an Honorary UCL Professorship for Dr Sujatha Srinivasan (IIT-Madras), following the announcement in June that the Hub will be a partner for the new AT experience lab opened at IIT-Madras. The move will help develop more home-grown technologies, such as testing tactile interfaces alongside business models which support venture growth in low-resource settings.

Over the coming months, GDI Hub will also join forces with IIT Bangalore, ATscale (the global partnership on AT) and Google to explore the impact of smartphones on the lives of people with visual or hearing impairments. Through a large-scale study of 500 people, they will examine the impact of basic android devices on participants’ inclusion within work, education and their communities.

Previously, GDI Hub researchers have worked with IIT Delhi colleagues to develop wheelchair-accessible maps of Delhi using innovative sensing platforms. The Street Rehab project was designed to gain a clear understanding of user needs, available technology and the accessibility of the city.

GDI Hub Director, Professor Cathy Holloway, said: “At GDI Hub, we value partnerships, and particularly academic collaboration, to develop new knowledge, products and insights. Partnerships are key to impact – to ensuring disabled people have full inclusion in society.

“Since GDI Hub emerged from the London 2012 Paralympic Games legacy, we’ve built more than 70 partnerships globally to develop, test and deliver novel thinking and practice. Today, we are delighted to announce the expansion of our partnership with our Indian colleagues.

“Asia is a key region of growth for Assistive Technologies and by building on shared academic excellence, and continuing to grow our collective networks of disabled people, AT users and collaborations, we will drive forward more user-led innovations whilst growing the research and innovation investment landscape.”

Professor Sujatha Srinivasan (IIT Madras) added: “We are delighted to be partnering with GDI Hub at UCL in our shared mission to increase access to AT globally. Through user-centred design activities of R2D2 IIT Madras, an innovation portal and the new experience centre for disability inclusion at IIT Madras (NCAHT-IITM), we will work together to take innovations to global markets.”

Since its foundation in 2016, the GDI Hub has reached 29 million people from more than 60 countries, bringing together established global experts and those new to disability innovation. It is also leads the UK Aid-funded AT2030 programme – supporting projects across the region to explore ‘'What Works’ to bring AT to all. Over the past 12 months, GDI Hub has been increasing its activity in India, working collaboratively alongside experts and thought leaders across universities, United Nations agencies, NGOs and DPOs.

The research centre sits within UCL Computer Science at UCLIC - a world-leading Centre of Excellence in Human-Computer Interaction, studying interactions between people and technology. Part of UCL’s Faculty of Engineering Sciences, GDI Hub is the world’s first and only WHO (World Health Organisation) Global Collaborating Centre on Assistive Technology (AT).

Last week, Professor Cathy Holloway and IIT Delhi colleagues discussed the growing opportunity for AT innovation during the G20 closing summit on ‘Promoting Investment, Innovation, and Industry for Assistive Technology in G20 countries and beyond’. The event will strengthen knowledge capacity among G20 member states and implementing stakeholders.