UK aid announces £31 million to improve access to life-changing Assistive Technology for all, backing increased ground-breaking innovation and research by the AT2030 programme, led by Global Disability Innovation Hub, at UCL.

Global Disability Innovation Hub
June 14, 2023

Today, at the UN annual Disability conference at the United Nations in New York, Rt Hon Tom Pursglove MP, Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work in the UK, announced that UK Aid would invest a further £31 million into the AT2030 programme, led by GDI Hub, to reach 9 million more people directly and 12 million more people indirectly with life-changing accessible technology. 

Working alongside more than 70 partners in 60 countries, the AT2030 programme has already reached 29 million people so far, accelerating new technologies and service delivery models through a pilot assistive technology impact fund, trialling market shaping techniques that have worked in other sectors, developing new tools and training to support governments to build capacity to deliver AT, and working at the community level to build community-led innovation.  AT2030 tries emerging solutions – with countries and within communities - building AT ecosystems, trialling local production techniques and testing new distribution manufacturing models to find out ‘what works’ to improve AT access.

The Global Report on AT, co-sponsored by AT2030 and published by WHO and UNICEF last year, found that 2.5 billion people require one or more assistive products, and this is expected to grow to over 3.5 billion by 2050 as the global population ages. Investing in AT is essential to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals and to give a return of up to $1:9 in investment, according to the global partnership on AT, ATscale.  Yet, access is as low as 3% in some countries due to a combination of fragmented, underdeveloped markets and policies, which fail to leverage the return on investment to the individual, their community or society. 

While the demand for assistive products is vast, markets remain nascent, and UK aid is funding AT2030 to continue to trail and test innovative models to kickstart access.  With recent global commitments on AT, some products are beginning to scale, and prices in some sectors are starting to drop. Now is the time to redouble investment, forge new partnerships and strengthen the systems needed to ensure more people are reached with these life changes in technology along with the services to provide and repair them. 

Global Disability Innovation Hub (GDI Hub) at UCL, began to test ‘What Works’ to improve access to life-changing Assistive Technology (AT) following the 2018 Global Disability Summit held on the site of the Paralympics Games in London. The AT2030 programme has enabled researchers, innovators and AT users to experiment with new ideas for getting products – such as eyeglasses, wheelchairs, prosthetics and digital devices – to those that need them most around the world. 

This investment by the UK government also marks the UK’s role as a global leader in research and innovation and demonstrates a continued legacy of the London 2012 games, with a leading commitment to disability inclusion.  Housed on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in UCL’s East campus, GDI Hub hosts the world’s first WHO Collaborating Centre on Assistive Technology and WHO are a core partner in this work. 

The additional investment will allow the AT2030 programme to continue to support governments in developing their policy and practice frameworks, ensure the physical and digital environments are accessible for AT users, and trial a scaled version of innovation support. AT2030 will also develop tools which make better use of data, building on the strengths of UCL Computer Science in Human-Computer Interaction and AI, AT2030 will work with partners to develop tools which allow for more affordable and informative data sets for the second Global Report on AT. 

What will the funding fund?

UK aids announcement will support the delivery of 30 more AT innovations on track to scale; 15 more innovative service delivery models; 60 more AT ventures supported for sustainable growth and 45 more countries/organisations implementing AT2030 funded ideas. We will publish an additional 80 journal articles and 120 influencing papers, driving 30 more innovative ATs, as well as 22 innovation ecosystem interventions.  We'll create 50 more partnerships, and 75 more strategic tools to increase AT capacity. We’ll conduct 8 additional procurement pilots/frameworks at the country, regional and global level, and will deliver 30 country level strategies for disability inclusion and AT access.

UK Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work Tom Pursglove MP reflected;

“We know that as a global ageing population, the need for ATech is growing; and so must our efforts. If we are lucky enough to grow old, all of us will need ATech at some point in our lifetimes.”  adding, “This investment will redouble our efforts on Inclusive Innovation and ATech access as we approach the last 6 years of the SDGs.”

Dr Vicki Austin, Director & Co-founder of the Global Disability Innovation Hub said;

“Over the past five years we’ve seen Assistive Technology emerge onto the development agenda as a key priority for anyone who believes in inclusion, economic wellbeing and societies where all can participate. Since the pandemic, the need is even greater and the opportunities more exciting too, as digital solutions are powering rapid change. A lot has been done, but there is much to do.

I am proud that GDI Hub, born of the legacy of the London 2012 Games, contributes to lead the global agenda on disability inclusion, and to do this from our new home at UCL East. We couldn’t do this work without a global consortium of disruptive partners who have turned their attention to AT access, and the status of WHO global collaborating centre on AT, is a real honour to hold. From our students, our researchers and our team, to our corporate partners, the communities we work with and the creative innovators we work with – everyone is determined to match this funding 100% and meet the challenge of inclusive tech for all.”

Watch the launch event on UNTV