GDI Hub partners with WHO to improve access to assistive technology for disabled people worldwide

The Global Disability Innovation Hub (GDI Hub), based at UCL, is the first organisation to be awarded the status of World Health Organisation (WHO) Official Collaborating Centre on Assistive Technology (AT).

Led by GDI Hub’s Academic Director, Professor Cathy Holloway (UCL Computer Science), the WHO Collaborating Centre will focus on driving global disability innovation to work towards a fairer world through access to assistive and accessible technology.

Experts from GDI Hub will support the WHO in widening global access to AT, which will be done through improving access to assistive products for humanitarian response, driving advances in digital technology and artificial intelligence and developing and implementing a one-stop shop model of assistive products service provision.

They will also contribute to the 2022 WHO/UNICEF World Report on Assistive Technology, highlighting the current need, demand and supply of assistive technology, as well as outlining good practices for innovation and recommendations to improve access.

Professor Holloway said: “We are delighted to be the WHO’s first Assistive Technology Collaboration Centre. Never has there been a more important time to address the needs of disabled and older people, as globally we look to build back fairer from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Our evidence-led approach founded in research and academic excellence enables GDI Hub to explore global challenges from a new perspective. Our UK Aid funded AT2030 programme has already made progress to improve access to life-changing AT for all. Building on this knowledge, alongside the expertise of the WHO, there is a significant opportunity to shift global markers and supply systems, improving equitable access to health products through global market shaping.”

GDI Hub was selected because of its global expertise in AT and its track record of supporting four million people with disabilities in 35 countries over the last two years to access AT.

Dr Mariângela Simão, Assistant Director General of the WHO, responsible for medicines and health products, said: “Collaborating centres form a vital part of the international collaborative network to support WHO in its programmes. We are delighted to announce the Global Disability Innovation Hub as the first Assistive Technology Collaborating Centre, as we look to address the important and unmet need for assistive technology access around the world. Especially at this time of crisis, such expertise is vitally needed to ensure no one is left behind.”

Minister for Disabled People Justin Tomlinson said: “This pioneering collaboration builds on the legacy of London 2012 – the most accessible Olympics and most successful Paralympics ever. UK designers and engineers are working hard to support the Government’s commitment to disability inclusion, and through our forthcoming National Strategy we continue to remove barriers for disabled people to help unlock their full potential.

“I am delighted that one of the UK’s best institutions, UCL, has been recognised by the WHO for their leadership at such a pivotal time as we recover and look to build back better.”

GDI Hub grew out of the bold approach to disability inclusion taken during the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. It was launched to build on this legacy and empower local communities through innovative design and engineering, working with business partners based in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park including the London College of Fashion and Loughborough University London.

GDI Hub now delivers programmes worldwide with a portfolio of £50m as well as a world leading Disability, Design and Innovation Master’s programme at UCL East, based in the Olympic Park. It is on track to meet its goal of supporting 15 million people to access AT by 2024.

UCL President & Provost Dr Michael Spence said: “UCL is proud to be a global leader in tackling the world’s biggest problems. It is estimated that by 2050 two billion people would benefit from assistive technology, yet 90% will not have access. Innovative research centres, such as Global Disability Innovation Hub have the power to drive extraordinary change and are an integral part of the academic vision for our new UCL East campus.

“Through this unique partnership with the WHO we have the ability to accelerate the potential of assistive technology to change lives globally. Never has there been a more important time for AT to drive disability equality, as the world looks to build back stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately impacted people with disabilities globally.”