South African tech to aid the disabled is playing catch up
Tech Girl has given me some incredible opportunities after the year and bit that the blog has been in existence. I’ve met some inspiring people a long the way but one interview sticks out and it wasn’t even for Tech Girl. I had the chance to pick the brain of Nicky Abdinor – a young Capetonian who was born with no arms and shortened legs. Her disability didn’t stop her from attending “normal” school and achieving so much more than many able bodied individuals I’ve come in to contact with.
She shared with me how technology had given her the freedom to do the “normal” things that we take for granted, like driving. I documented her story for Intel and you can read it here.
One of Nicky’s goals was to have the freedom to drive a vehicle. I document the process in the article linked. Nicky was able to get access to an adapted car and used it to get her driver’s license as well. However, South African tech to aid the disabled is not up to scratch.
Adapted cars for disabled drivers can cost anything between R8000 and R15000. However, if you have above waist limitations like Nicky or quadriplegia then your adaptions will likely need to be imported because many are only available overseas. Nicky used the example of her own car – if she wanted to adapt another vehicle now it would cost her more than 60 000 pounds – which doesn’t include the car price or importing it in to South Africa.
The difficulty with adapted vehicles though is to get them registered in South Africa. The adaptions to the car have to be approved by SABS. SABS needs to utilize the services of car adaptation specialists which end up costing the car owner a pretty penny. Nicky has been leading a project to try design and develop the adaptations she uses locally. She is trying to get joystick steering technology designed and developed in South Africa.
However, the project is constantly incurring more expenses and hitting speed bumps on the way. The problem is that there are no official rules or standards for adaptations to cars in South Africa. Nicky was only able to get her current vehicle approved because it was adapted in the UK according to European standards.
While the process is slow Nicky has partnered up with the Cape Peninsula University of Technology for the “Driving Dreams project”. The project aims to bring the joystick steering technology to Africa. Phase 1, The Simulator, has been completed and the project is currently working on a Demonstrator Vehicle for Phase 2.
I try, for the most part, on this blog, to promote technology development in Africa. The truth is we have a very small number of truly innovative manufacturers developing new technology to assist real problems affecting our community. This is such a good example. I watched a TEDx Talk of Nicky’s and she said something that stuck with me:
Have you ever seen a mini bus taxi stop for a person in a wheelchair?
Building on that, how do disabled South Africans utilise the public buses? Or trains? I constantly advocate females entering STEM careers and promoting technology as a viable field of study… but is it? Is our country trying to catch up with the technology train because we have created an industry that prefers to rely on cheap Chinese imports as opposed to manufacturing product locally? International tech companies regularly invite me to tours of their local “factories” which are nothing more than assembly warehouses of imported product. Do we lack the necessary expertise to develop local technology standards or have we become a lazy nation of resellers as opposed to creators?
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