Global Report on Assistive Technology and CYBATHLON

26th June 2024
ARM Medal Ceremony - CYBATHLON 2016 | © CYBATHLON

ARM Medal Ceremony - CYBATHLON 2016


Access to assistive technology is a critical need for nearly one billion children and adults with disabilities, highlighted the WHO and UNICEF Global Report on Assistive Technology. CYBATHLON, through its unique competition, helps address this need by offering researchers, engineers, and people with disabilities a platform to test and showcase innovative assistive technologies that are user-centred and affordable.

WHO and UNICEF report that access to essential assistive technologies, such as glasses, hearing aids, and mobility devices like prosthetics, exoskeletons and wheelchairs, is alarmingly low, especially in low- and middle-income countries. Only three per cent of those in need can access these life-changing technologies. The report predicts that by 2050, over 3.5 billion people will require one or more assistive products, up from 2.5 billion today. Immediate action from governments, industry, and civil society is necessary to fund and prioritise access to these products.

WHO Report on Assistive Technology | © WHO

WHO Report on Assistive Technology


CYBATHLON's Contribution

The Global Report on Assistive Technology challenges us to build a more inclusive society – and innovation can bridge gaps. CYBATHLON competitions are helping to develop better access to assistive technology. By fostering innovation, research, and development in collaborative environments CYBATHLON teams are demonstrating ground-breaking solutions for assistive technology.  More specifically, CYBATHLON advances assistive technology through competitive events that challenge teams to develop practical and innovative solutions. These competitions drive research and emphasise the importance of accessibility and usability. By involving pilots with disabilities in developing and testing these technologies, CYBATHLON ensures solutions are tailored to real-world needs.

Fabian Engel, team manager of Circleg (a CYBATHLON participating team), highlights their vision: “We want to use our skills as industrial designers to influence people’s lives and the environment.” Circleg’s prosthesis, made from recycled plastic waste, aims to offer a cost-effective solution for people in developing countries, enabling them to live with self-determined mobility despite leg amputation.

CYBATHLON Milano Design Week 2023 | © CYBATHLON

CYBATHLON Milano Design Week 2023


Team Touch Hand from South Africa, preparing to participate in the Arm Prosthesis Race at CYBATHLON 2024, specialises in mechanised prosthetics and aims to make low-cost prosthetics available to the public and affordable for low-income houses. “Using the additive manufacturing process – industrial 3D printing, the team is developing the customizability of the prosthetic hand and creating a modular, mechanical design. The design will be simple, lightweight, cost-effective, and manageable to enable its amputee pilot to carry out simple tasks comfortably,” says the team manager Professor Riaan Stopforth.

The CIERVO team from Chile focuses on creating low-cost, functional assistive technology for public healthcare systems. They aim to enhance prosthetic movements with automatic control, improving comfort and adaptability for users. Participating in CYBATHLON 2024, the team aims to show that innovative technology can be both affordable and accessible, demonstrating that quality and functionality can be achieved at reduced costs to benefit a wider population. Their commitment is to improve the daily lives of people with disabilities.

Team Pilots’ Personal Stories Highlight the Impact

The transformative power of assistive technology is illustrated by individuals like Adrian Bak, a pilot for the Contur 2000 Leg Prosthesis Race team, who lost his left leg in a traffic accident, and Dr. Jaimie Borisoff, a BCIT MAKE+ team pilot who sustained a spinal cord injury from a road accident. Their experiences underscore the profound impact of assistive technology on education, sports, community involvement, and employment. Adrian’s journey from accident survivor to electrical engineer in prosthetics exemplifies the potential of assistive technology to change lives and de-stigmatize disability. Dr. Borisoff holds a PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering and now his research focuses on how technology development improves accessibility and mobility for people with spinal cord injury. His work focuses on expanding patients’ ability to interact more fully with others, the environment, and their world.

Ian Thomson, a 29-year-old pilot for the NWU Eagles CYBATHLON Leg Prosthesis Race team from South Africa, exemplifies resilience and innovation. After losing his leg in a motorcycle accident at 16, Ian embraced modern prosthetic technology and an active lifestyle. Now the head technical lead and designer on his team, Ian envisions a future where prosthetics are seamlessly integrated into users' lives, tailored to their unique needs.

The Role of CYBATHLON @school

CYBATHLON @school integrates the principles of the CYBATHLON competition into educational settings, inspiring and educating the next generation of innovators. This initiative engages students in developing and understanding assistive technologies through hands-on activities and interactive learning, helping to:

  • Raise awareness about the challenges faced by people with disabilities.
  • Encourage empathy and inclusive thinking.
  • Foster creativity and problem-solving skills.
  • Bridge the gap between academic research and practical application
School Children during the CYBATHLON @school workshop | © CYBATHLON

School Children during the CYBATHLON @school workshop


Barriers to Access and Way Forward

Barriers to accessing assistive technology include stigma, cost, and geographic distance. In developing countries, long travel distances and prohibitive costs prevent many from obtaining necessary devices. Approximately two-thirds of people with assistive products pay out-of-pocket, often relying on financial support from family and friends.

"Denying people access to these life-changing tools is an infringement of human rights and economically short-sighted," said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. "Assistive technology is a life changer – it opens the door to education, employment, social interaction, and an independent life of dignity." He urges all countries to fund and prioritise access to assistive technology, allowing everyone to reach their potential.

The report calls for including assistive technology in universal healthcare coverage and emphasises a people-centred, rights-based approach. Engaging users in all aspects of assistive technology aligns with CYBATHLON's mission to bridge the gap between technology developers and end-users, fostering an inclusive environment prioritising human rights and economic efficiency.


CYBATHLON's efforts to promote and develop assistive technologies are vital in addressing the global challenge of accessibility. By showcasing innovative solutions and emphasising user-centred design, CYBATHLON paves the way for a more inclusive future where everyone can live up to their potential.

Join us in October for CYBATHLON 2024 to witness these groundbreaking technologies in action and support the movement towards greater accessibility for all.




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