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News 17 March 2021

How energy access programmes can address the needs of people with disabilities

Efficiency for Access published a research note titled ‘How can energy access programmes address the needs of people with disabilities?’.  Authored by Richa Goyal, senior insight manager, Energy Saving Trust, the report outlines actions that energy access programmes can take to address the needs of people living with disabilities.

At present, the UN estimates that 80% of the world’s disabled populations live in developing countries. Likewise, rural areas in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia have the lowest levels of energy access in the world. While Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7) refers to ‘affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all’, it does not explicitly mention access for people with disabilities. Despite significant progress towards SDG7, the needs of people with disabilities are often overlooked.

A World Health Organization (WHO) survey of 44 countries found that in 17 of these, less than 50% of households with people with disabilities had electricity access. What’s more, people with disabilities are likely to have higher energy needs as they require assistive technologies for independent living, many of which are powered electronically. Globally, more than one billion people need at least one assistive product, yet 90% do not currently have access to them.

Key takeaways

The introductory note argues that there is limited research available about the challenges that people with disabilities may face in accessing appliances. This is especially true for low-income and developing country settings. As such, energy access surveys must aim to identify how people with disabilities use appliances and access energy. In addition, programmes that focus on expanding access to appliances compatible with off- and weak-grid systems need to encourage inclusive product design.

The report outlines suggestions to follow when conducting research. First, surveys must aim to reach those whose functional needs are not currently being met across a diverse range of disabilities, requirements and backgrounds. To prioritise this, consulting users with varying needs at the product design stage would help ensure a ‘design-for-all’ approach. This can be achieved by carrying out observational studies, utilising research aids adapted for different formats, and including caregivers or family members on behalf of people with communication difficulties, for example.

Additionally, the report offers next steps for off- and weak-grid product appliance companies and energy access programmes. These include building diverse and accessible workplaces, creating accessible content, and fostering research and development in the sector. Read the recommendations here.

Longer term, collaboration is needed to improve the affordability, accessibility and quality of assistive technologies. Off-grid solar product and appliance companies already have substantial expertise in designing and distributing appliances that are able to perform in harsher environments. Therefore, disability and energy access stakeholders could benefit from joining efforts in enabling access to powered assistive products in rural developing countries.

You can read the full report ‘How can energy access programmes address the needs of people with disabilities? An introductory note’ here.