CATCH Professor Luc de Witte has been addressing a session of the United Nations in New York.

As president of the AAATE, Professor de Witte was invited to speak at 11th session of the Conference of States Parties to the CRPD (Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities).

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) sets out what human rights mean in the context of disability. The first human rights treaty of the twenty-first century, it represents a major step towards realising the right of disabled people to be treated as full and equal citizens.

Professor de Witte spoke about the opportunities and challenges that face assistive technology:

“Never before in history has there been a time in which technology has been developing as fast as it is today. This offers huge potential for highly effective solutions that may serve many people with disabilities. Harnessing that potential and making it available to everyone is a huge challenge, requiring research and development efforts as well as directed policies on national and international levels. Unfortunately, AT related research for the benefit of people with disabilities is rarely the focus of research funding programmes.

“The fast development of new possibilities is fantastic on the one hand but also bears a huge risk of causing a societal ‘divide’ between those who have access to these possibilities and those who have not. There are huge inequalities in access to AT solutions. This is not only an issue at a global level between the global south and the north, but also between countries in Europe and other continents, and within high-income countries. It is an exciting challenge to use the technological possibilities in such a way that they help to bridge the gap described and to decrease inequalities instead of increasing them.

“Although many States have made great progress aligning their legislative frameworks with the principles of the CRPD, the daily reality for people with disabilities in large parts of the world is still far from the ideal. Fact is that only about 10-15% of people with disabilities worldwide have access to high quality affordable AT and related services. Most of the innovations and new possibilities technology offers do not reach the people who need them. There is a need for effective and efficient AT provision policies and systems to bridge the gap between what is possible and what is available to the people who need these solutions.”

The AAATE (Association for the Advancement of Assistive Technology in Europe) is an independent non-for-profit association devoted to all aspects of assistive technology.

A summary of AAATE’s main message to the delegates to the UNCPRD in New York can be found at http://aaate.net/publications/position-papers/.