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Establishment of an Online Clearinghouse for Assistive Technologies

To establish an online clearinghouse that includes educational and tutorial information in multiple languages about Assistive Technologies

Photo of George Kayange
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What problem does your idea solve?

Worldwide about 1 out of 10 persons who require an assistive device/technology (AT) access it. It's in this context that WHO has developed the Priority Assistive Products List (APL); whereas SAFOD & its partners have developed a mobile data system that is capturing, organizing, and mapping availability of AT in Southern Africa. Yet there is still a notable lack of general awareness about AT, at all levels, a situation that should hamper progress in achieving the goals of these two initiatives.

Explain your idea

Attainment of most human rights affecting persons with disabilities may not be achieved without high-quality affordable assistive products and/or information thereof globally. This is why WHO has developed the Priority Assistive Products List (APL) under the GATE project. Similarly, SAFOD has an innovative project known as AT-Info-Map ( which is capturing, organizing, and mapping availability of AT in Southern Africa using a mobile data system. We have however learned that increasing general awareness about AT is a critical component that is missing in these two initiatives. There is a notable lack of general awareness, at all levels. Unless we devise a separate and innovative AT educational program focused on creating awareness at all levels, the aforementioned initiatives may not make intended impact. To address the challenges above, SAFOD, intends to establish an online clearinghouse that includes educational and tutorial information in multiple languages about the WHO’s APL and other available ATs (including video guides and demos, audio lessons, webcasts, etc.); detailing how each AT is used; how people can benefit from AT; expert advice; information on new AT product innovations, rural & indigenous AT, & successful approaches to increasing AT access & availability. The clearinghouse will also provide product level information, product photos, specs, etc that the AT-Info-Map Mobile App is not able to collect because of data burden.

Who benefits?

The primary beneficiaries are the persons with disabilities and older persons who either need AT or information related AT. Secondary beneficiaries include the families/guardians of the persons with disabilities and older persons requiring AT; community social workers; community rehabilitation officers; AT suppliers; Disabled Peoples Organizations (DPOs) providing AT services.

How is your idea unique?

Most projects/initiatives - besides the examples we have mentioned above - whose aim is to contribute towards global efforts for improving access to and availability of affordable assistive products, tend to put more emphasis/focus on implementing solutions that increase accessibility/availability/affordability of ATs, but overlook the key element of awareness. We have realized that the more the target beneficiaries remain unaware about basic information, such as product specs, repair guides, AT categories, indigenous and local solutions, AT for rural areas, etc, the harder it becomes for them to access these ATs even if such they were made easily available or affordable. Public AT literacy is an important missing piece in this jigsaw puzzle. Hence this project is going to be unique in that the focus is very much on increasing general awareness about ATs, and hence supports the successful implementation of the many other current AT projects/initiatives in Southern Africa and beyond.

Tell us more about you

The Southern Africa Federation of the Disabled (SAFOD) is a leading disability-focused network whose Head Offices are based in Gaborone, Botswana, and engaged in coordination of activities of DPOs in 10 countries in Southern Africa, namely Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. In this project, we're collaborating with the University of Washington who will be providing technical support, while SAFOD will be the lead implementer.

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

There are no manufacturers of nearly all AT categories in most countries where the project is going to focus. The majority of local suppliers order from South African suppliers who are often ordering from other countries in Europe or USA. For this reason, the cost of acquiring AT is generally much higher in the absence of local manufacturers and multiple links in global supply chain. While it is clear that there is high demand of AT in most of these countries, but one of the unanswered questions therefore is how the Online Clearinghouse could in long term influence corresponding increase not only in supply but also in new local manufacturers to meet the demand - notwithstanding the fact that the focus of the project is AT awareness.

Where will your idea be implemented?

  • Malawi
  • Mozambique
  • South Africa
  • Zambia
  • Zimbabwe

Experience in Implementation Country(ies)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

Expertise in Sector

  • I've worked in a sector related to my idea for more than a year.

Organizational Status

  • We are a registered non-profit, charity, NGO, or community-based organization.

Idea Maturity

  • Research & Early Testing: I am exploring my idea, gathering the inspiration and information I need to test it.

How has your idea changed based on feedback?

Currently the general understanding is that many of the existing AT informational resources (guides, videos) are coming from the same countries where the AT is produced (China, US, Europe, India) so it is critical to have these information resources created or adapted for southern African context. With this observation in mind, what we are trying to do now is to emphasize that this clearinghouse will offer information and guidance that is designed specifically for southern Africa – so examples of people that benefit from AT would be from the local region, AT manufactured locally would be showcased, along with local repair services.

Who will implement this idea?

This project will be led by SAFOD, with support from University of Washington as technical partner. SAFOD will devote two full-time staff (one will be a web developer who will develop and manage the web-based system, and the other one will be a project manager who will devote his/her time full time managing the information. They will be assisted by a technical consultant at University of Washington. Due to low staffing level, SAFOD will hire a part-time accountant to manage the project finances.

Using a human-centered design approach, you may uncover insights that lead to small or foundational changes to your organization’s existing strategy or processes in order to unlock the potential of your idea. How would your organization go about making such changes?

The development of the AT-Info-Map App inspired the idea of developing a web-based clearinghouse on AT hence the design approach for the latter will mirror the approach employed during the App design, which involved multiple rounds of data gathering and synthesis, as part of the iterative process of App design and testing. Synthesis documents were reviewed and analyzed by presenters to identify and organize the lessons learned. We recognize that this project is going to be groundbreaking in Southern Africa, hence the need to pilot it for a year before going full-throttle to allow for deeper engagement with wide-ranging stakeholders, prototyping, and iterating. Based on user feedback and empathy, we will seek to identify and address barriers to uptake of this web-based solution.

What is it that most attracted you to Amplify instead of a more traditional funding model?

We believe most successful projects begin with ideas. But most great ideas emanate from the state of ambiguity. Otherwise, there would no longer be a great idea left had their been no ambiguity. So, unlike traditional funders, "embracing ambiguity" is what attracted us most to Amplify. We are inspired by the fact it is not about how big an organization is, or how illustrious the track record it has. It is rather about creativity, and finding solutions for people with people themselves at centre.

What challenges do your end-users face? (1) What is the biggest challenge that your end-users face on a day-to-day, individual level? (2) What is the biggest systems-level challenge that affects your end-users?

The main challenge the project seeks to address is lack of general awareness about AT, at all levels, as already outlined. But there are also other corresponding challenges: (1) There is fragmented supply-chain systems of ATs in Southern Africa. In some countries like Botswana, the most important source of AT is Government (usually free) while in others like Mozambique it is international donors. The government in Mozambique supplies only crutches, artificial legs and arms made from rudimentary materials. (2) The policy or legislative environment/systems in most of these countries is not conducive to address these supply and demand issues. (3) There is no good referral system for AT repair services in these countries, as DPOs and individuals themselves have no or limited repair expertise.

Tell us about your vision for this project: (1) share one sentence about the impact you would like to see from this project in five years and (2) what is the biggest question you need to answer to get there?

By 2021, we aim to help increase & improve AT access by 60% for the 11.5 million people with disabilities in Southern Africa. We'll not only be empowering them to be able to access low-cost but durable ATs, but we also realize that some of them who don't have access to AT now may actually be having broken AT which they can't repair due to the dearth of information/guides. So the biggest question is how we strategically link with other key issues like repair, policy and supply chain systems.

How long have you and your colleagues been working on this idea together?

  • Between 6 months and 1 year

How many of your team’s paid, full-time staff are currently based in the location where the beneficiaries of your proposed idea live?

  • Under 5 paid, full-time staff

Is your organization registered in the country you intend to implement your idea in?

  • We are registered in all countries where we plan to implement.

My organization's operational budget for 2016 was:

  • Between $100,000 and $500,000 USD

If your team/idea/organization has a website, please share the URL below.


Join the conversation:

Photo of leo


Photo of Christie Taylor

You are doing amazing work to widen the spectrum of augmentative technology! Thank you for sharing your inspiration with the world!

Photo of George Kayange

Thanks Christie for your kind words. We're encouraged to do even more!

Photo of OpenIDEO

Hi George and Team! We’re excited to share with you feedback and questions from the Amplify team and an external set of experts. We encourage you to think about this feedback as you continue to improve and refine your idea. You are welcome to respond in the comments section and/or to incorporate feedback into the text of your idea. Your idea and all associated comments will all be reviewed during the final review process.

General feedback from experts:
• "This idea is thoughtful and sensible in addressing what the proposers define as a missing piece of the puzzle: awareness of AT. This addresses a gap, whereby the WHO and its partners provide information about AT, but have failed to raise awareness of AT."
• "I think this idea should be tested with the user in mind, to ensure they would find this useful. If so, this would be a useful product for making sure the WHO's wider ranging programme is effective in the region."
• "This could be brilliant but also don't neglect the fact that AT in the end is more than a tool, it is a service that has to fit into a well prepared, accessible and accommodating environment. The system must not give the impression that ATs on its own would be solutions."
• Tip: AbleData (US, and EASTIN (EU, might be systems to look at to learn about the complexity of user requirements (ICF classification) and the complex matching process. This needs a very very very high level of expertise in many domains (educational, psychological, medical, technical, organisational, ...). And in particular it will turn out that many of the solutions need to be adapted and have to fit into an ecosystem round the user to impact on quality of life. In my opinion a huge amount of expertise is needed to build the clearing house and even more to run it- the web alone will not be enough. Another organization to look into might be: Temple Institute on Disabilities

Is this idea desirability, feasibility, and viability
• Yes! Such a system is on the wishlist around the globe. It is very hard to build and even more difficult to run and maintain.
• I do think that what this project aims to achieve can benefit several other communities if seen with a broader horizon and executed with minor adjustments. If so, there may be more challenges such as connections with the local organizations and communities, information in various different languages, etc.

How does this idea consider user needs?
• This idea is designed with users in mind, but from the information provided has not been tested yet.
• Moving forward how do you plan to support building individual solutions that take into account surrounding environmental factors? Most standard AT solutions do not work without considerable adaptation, training and ongoing support.
• The team proposes to raise awareness through online platforms, smartphones etc. Can you explain how you have/will design with users in mind for things like, ensuring the people this project is targeting would use a website to gather information about AT? What are other methods that are user-friendly?

What outstanding questions do you have for this contributor?
• Has this idea been tested with the proposed user group? What was their feedback? Did they say they would use this sort of service?
• What is the final product and technology? Website? App? Both? More?
• How will you drive the assessment and matching process that needs a lot of diverse expertise to address the personal, disability related, environmental and many other factors? What does sustainability for this product/service look like?

In case you missed it, check out this Storytelling Toolkit for inspiration for crafting strong and compelling stories: Storytelling is an incredibly useful tool to articulate an idea and make it come to life for those reading it. Don’t forget - June 4 at 11:59PM PST is your last day to make changes to your idea on the OpenIDEO platform.

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Looking forward to reading more!

Photo of George Kayange

Thanks a lot for this very enlightening contribution, including the links (tips) from Able Data and EASTIN. Indeed the issues raised in this comment have been a significant eye opener throughout the process of improving the idea. When you go through final version, you will definitely realize that the final submission has taken into account some of the questions that you have raised.

For instance, we have attempted to consider the question on "this idea should be tested with the user in mind”, as our approach is to replicate exactly the same human-centered design approach that we used to develop the At-Info-Map Mobile App. And indeed, we strongly believe that our proposed web-based solution will complement the former.

And we also liked this point, “….but also don't neglect the fact that AT in the end is more than a tool… The system must not give the impression that ATs on its own would be solutions." We are 100% in agreement with this observation. Hence, our biggest question that we even intend to further explore is “how the project strategically links with other key issues like repair, policy & supply chain systems” beyond narrowing the awareness gap.

Thanks once again.