The situation: people in PNG face challenges in accessing appropriate accessing technology that meets their needs.
Assistive Technology (AT) includes any item, piece of equipment or product that helps a person carry out daily tasks and activities. It is intended to help reduce the impact of impairment and increase, maintain or improve the ability of people with disabilities to do their family activities, and be an active part of family, community and civil life.
Based on WHO statistics, it is likely that over 1 million PNG citizens would benefit from hearing, vision and mobility related AT. This number will continue to rise due to population growth, ageing, and increasing rates of non-communicable diseases and injuries (World Health Organization, 2011). However, access to AT for PNG citizens is limited leaving many people without the AT they need to participate equally in society.
PNG stakeholders have been working for many decades to ensure people are equipped with the AT and services that benefit them. However, service providers in PNG face limitations in the number and capacity of personnel necessary to provide AT, available budget and challenges in reaching those people who require AT (Motivation Australia, 2014).
“When the need is not met, persons with disabilities are isolated and do not have access to the same opportunities as others within their own communities” (World Health Organization, 2008)
What was the response?
Mandated by The National Policy on Disability 2015-2025, PNG stakeholders agreed to develop a framework for a national standard of care in appropriate AT provision, for people with mobility, hearing and vision impairments.
Through an Australian Government funded project, a PNG multi-stakeholder Steering Committee was formed, chaired by the national disabled person’s organisation PNG Assembly of Disabled Persons (PNGADP). The Steering Committee’s role was to ensure the Guidelines complied with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD); aligned with existing PNG guidelines, policies and systems; was culturally and contextually appropriate and that decisions were made with the best interests of users in mind. Motivation Australia partnered with PNGADP and the Steering Committee to provide technical knowledge, ensure international practices in quality AT provision were shared, facilitate consultations and lead the drafting of the guidelines.
Between 2015-16 consultations were held with more than 250 people from more than 50 organisations and/or departments across the four regions of PNG. Stakeholders, particularly PNG citizens who use or require AT, contributed their personal experience and knowledge about what is needed and why.
“It’s my right to have an education. At first I used glasses but they were not helpful enough and I used to take a lot of time to study. I now use a laptop to help me with braille, I also use NVDA and JAWS. I can now type up notes, exercises and assignments by myself. It (AT) helps me to study. I also use it (AT) to listen to music and play card games.
Collin, an AT user in PNG
What were the outcomes?
In a first for PNG and the Pacific Region, stakeholders worked together to develop the National Guidelines for the Provision of Assistive Technology in Papua New Guinea.
The guidelines provide practical guidance and recommendations on how to strengthen:
- Rights based governance, policy and leadership relevant to AT provision
- Maximum user involvement at every step
- Equitable AT service systems and service reach
- Minimum AT training requirements for local personnel
- Recommended AT for the PNG context
PNG stakeholders are now using these guidelines to:
- Advocate for improved services and access to AT
- Provide information to help users have choice about what AT will help them in their daily activities and to be active participants in PNG society
- Support improvements in the quality of AT that is procured
- Guide the minimum standards expected of AT services
- Set minimum training requirements of AT service personnel
- Negotiate and coordinate donor support for improved quality of AT
What were the challenges?
Huge demand and unmet need for AT. Despite the great need, PNG stakeholders made a deliberate choice to focus these Guidelines on key recommended hearing, mobility and vision AT. This gave them the potential to reach the greatest number of people within the service systems that currently exist. It is intended that these Guidelines be expanded in the future to address other AT priorities.
Consultations need to be accompanied with awareness. Providing in-depth information about AT products and services was necessary during consultations to ensure that PNG stakeholders had the information to make informed decisions. Raising awareness on ‘appropriate’ AT provision, types of AT and international standards, better enabled stakeholders to effectively advocate for quality hearing, mobility and vision AT services for their local context and provide valuable input into the Guidelines
Diverse and decentralised policies, roles and responsibilities. The diverse geography, competing priorities and limited resources of stakeholders, as well as the decentralised system of PNG presents challenges to accessing AT services. During the drafting process key policies, roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders were identified. This assisted the Guidelines to be designed around the people, places and systems of PNG within the context of existing legislation, policies and plans, while still drawing on international standards and resources.
Donated AT that do not meet needs, may cause harm, are abandoned and create greater waste management issues for PNG. PNG stakeholders are strongly against donated AT provided without consultation with local partners and users, outside the service system and without the presence of trained personnel. They state that ‘this is not the rights based way!’. Sorting through containers of unrequested donations “takes service providers away from actually delivering the needed service” (PNG service provider).
What did we learn?
- The Steering Committee facilitated invaluable multi-stakeholder engagement, collaboration and coordination across sectors and government and non-government organisations.
- The leadership of PNGADP as chair of the Steering Committee was critical in working in the spirit of the CRPD and ensuring AT users were front and centre of the process. Over time respect and trust amongst stakeholders strengthened, ensuring understanding of the value and use of the Guidelines for them.
- The consultations provided the opportunity to gather information for the Guidelines and to increase awareness and knowledge amongst stakeholders about the AT that is available or could be procured at low cost to PNG and what services exist and how to access them.
- Strengthening AT services and implementation of Guidelines such as these will take long-term commitment, collaboration, time and investment of many stakeholders.
We acknowledge the Steering Committee, the PNG Assembly of Disabled Persons (PNG ADP), users of AT who shared their stories, and all those from Government Departments and the community who contributed to the Guidelines. We also recognise the investment from the Australian Government in partnership Government of Papua New Guinea through the Strongim Pipol Strongim Nesen (SPSN) program who provided funding for the development of these Guidelines.