Digital participation: People with disabilities

A recent Consumer Expert Group research report, commissioned by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in October 2009, highlighted the barriers many people with disabilities have when accessing the Internet and also provided valuable recommendations to central government.

The barriers disabled people face are actually very similar to non-disabled people, however, the solutions required differ immensely. With the launch of the Consortium for the Promotion of Digital Participation, and the appointment of Martha Lane Fox (national Digital Inclusion Champion) 2009 was the year this debate really took off in the political realm. Approximately 17 million people are digitally excluded, many of whom have disabilities. This report focuses on the disabled, and how this exclusion can be transformed.

During the research, participants explained the reasons why they were not using the Internet. Their answers were categorised as follows:

This is a consistent issue for many people who are excluded from Internet. Some of the reasons include; a fear of not being able to use the Internet properly, financial worries in paying an Internet Service Provider (ISP) or online safety e.g. identity theft. However, for many it is a choice i.e. they are living their lives contentedly without the need for the Internet. The research found that some people with disabilities also choose to not engage with the Internet.

The report therefore recommended that training, services and even equipment are made available to disabled people to ensure the additional financial constraints they may have are not a barrier to engaging with the Internet.

2. GETTING ONLINEUnfortunately, even in the 21st Century many people, including those with disabilities, still do not truly understand how to access and use technology and how this would improve their interaction with the Internet. What is quite astonishing, is that many retail outlets that sell hardware and software do not provide advice to customers on what would be appropriate for them.

The recommendations included setting comprehensive training courses for disabled people, to assist with their access to not only the Internet but technology in general.

3. MAKING THE INTERNET WORKAccessibility is a key issue for those disabled people who are already engaged with the Internet. The way a website is designed is essential for how people will actually use it. Many people with visual and hearing impairments purchase their own reading devices to enable them to access the website(s) they want, however, if the website is not built in a way that enables it to be read by these devices it makes it impossible for people with these disabilities to use it.

Therefore, the recommendations were for all Government and public authorities to adhere to the Disability Discrimination Act to ensure no discrimination takes place.

Off-line alternatives should be as available as the online ones, as website accessibility dictates how much interaction with the Internet someone with a disability can have.

The recommendations made include looking at the accessibility requirements for VOIP and IPTV, which has caused concern in the past. Also, the report recommended that the Government pay close attention to new online services e.g. television replays.

The report was an interesting read, and highlighted many discussion points around disabled people’s access to the Internet and technology in general. To read it in full please visit

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