Focus on Disability: Transfer technology to all
- Technology transfer has tended to focus on non-disabled people
- Information on transferred technology should be delivered in a disability-friendly way
- Any agreed technology transfer targets must include disabled people
Committing to disability inclusive technology transfer in the post-2015 development goals will help to cut inequality, says Sue Coe.
There is a need for more research and development (R&D) investment and new ways to ensure that technology transfer is used to overcome global development challenges, a meeting of international academics in Indonesia concluded last month. What does this mean for disabled people around the world?
The meeting is part of the lengthy process of agreeing new UN-coordinated global development goals post-2015.
It identified R&D investment and technology transfer as ways to address the massive inequalities between developed and less-developed countries. Irsan Pawennei — one of the meeting's conveners — highlighted inequality as the main issue to consider in setting the successors to the Millennium Development Goals.
These points are very relevant for people with disabilities. In all societies, disabled people experience substantial social and material poverty, and many inequalities.  Technologies are available that could help improve their lives, but too often they are delivered in insufficient quantity or quality. For example, damaged wheelchairs and broken hearing aids can be found around the developing world no longer serving a purpose.
Technology transfer to less-developed countries has generally focused on non-disabled people. Intentional efforts acknowledging the needs and rights of disabled people is an important first step in redressing this. Without this effort inequalities between disabled and non-disabled people will become further entrenched.
Irsan said at the meeting technology transfer should rely on the transfer of knowledge rather than products, to ensure the poor benefit in the long term and inequalities aren't further entrenched. This is a key consideration point for disabled people.
Products can quickly become redundant, but knowledge is more sustainable. Copyright-restricted software packages date fast, can be expensive and can make users reliant on a 'brand'. Communications technologies can transform the lives of hearing-impaired people but hardware has rapidly moved on from minicoms to mobile phones and now smartphones.
Information on technology transfer should be delivered in formats and methods that people with different impairments can access, for example by providing audio versions or by using simple language. If accessible formats are not consciously considered, disabled people will be excluded from both benefiting from their content and engaging in the process.
Irsan discusses the potential for information and communications technology (ICT) for creating jobs in urban areas. ICT also offers massive potential benefits for disabled people if it is intentionally applied. In some African countries, mobile phone companies — for example Safaricom in Kenya — are creating jobs for physically impaired people in call centres. Mobile communications offer huge inclusion benefits to people with hearing impairments. Ever improving screen-reader technologies open up many opportunities for visually impaired people.
Decisions made on the post-2015 targets could dominate the development agenda for the next two decades. Making commitments for disability-inclusive technology transfer would be a vital part of reducing global inequalities.
Sue Coe has worked in international development for 25 years across Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Now a development and disability inclusion consultant, she previously worked for World Vision, Practical Action (formerly ITDG), VSO and Action on Hearing Loss (formerly RNID). Coe can be contacted at [email protected].
 WHO/World Bank World Report On Disability (WHO, 2011)