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GSMA launches digital access guidelines to help disabled people

Industry organisation GSMA has launched a framework of guidelines aimed at making mobile technology more accessible for people with disabilities

GSMA has launched a framework of guidelines aimed at helping the mobile industry close the digital accessibility gap, which leaves a number of people with disabilities unable to use mobile technology.

The guidelines, titled Principles for driving the digital inclusion of persons with disabilities, outline ways mobile firms and other digital providers can tackle some of the barriers which prevent people with disabilities from using mobile devices.

“Removing the barriers faced by persons with disabilities requires informed action from all stakeholders,” said Mats Granryd, director general of the GSMA.

“It’s time for the mobile industry to take steps to ensure our products and services are accessible, unlocking the power of connectivity so that all people thrive. I am delighted that Dialog Axiata PLC, Optus, Orange Group, Safaricom PLC, Telefónica Group, Turkcell, Vodacom South Africa and Zain Group have already signed up to the Principles, and I look forward to many more industry participants joining us in this commitment.”

Recent research by BCS found the number of IT professionals in the UK with a disability – meaning those with physical or mental disabilities lasting for more than a year, making it difficult to carry out day-to-day tasks – has increased since 2015, but was still low at 11% in 2019.

Digital exclusion is still rife in the UK across many different groups – for example, around 700,000 people in the UK don’t have access to digital devices at all for one reason or another, and recent research by Purple found 75% of people with disabilities have had to leave a store or website because their disability was not catered to in a way that would allow them to finish their purchase.

The GSMA’s guidelines, which have been developed alongside help from mobile operators and disability and accessibility experts, outline three “core principals” for increasing digital inclusion for disabled people, including ensuring disability inclusion is embraced at every level of an organisation, understanding how to reach and serve people with disabilities and delivering inclusive products and services.

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When it comes to ensuring disability and inclusion is present at every level of an organisation, GSMA makes several recommendations including making sure disability inclusion is championed by senior leadership, embedding disability inclusion in internal policies, business strategies and KPIs, and helping people with disabilities to thrive within an organisation.

Actions recommended by the GSMA to ensure organisations aim to reach and serve disabled communities included collecting and analysing data to better understand how disabled customers are using services, and conducting consumer research to find out how to better understand and meet the requirements of customers with disabilities.

The GSMA also suggested developing handsets, content, products and services to be affordable and accessible to all, as well as putting provisions in place such as customer service advisors trained in teaching customers how to use such as devices as potential ways to ensure the delivery of inclusive products and services.

The goal is to have mobile operators and “digital stakeholders” endorse the guidelines to encourage and support a more digitally inclusive society going forward.

Closing the gap

Pointing out World Health Organisation figures found that one billion people have disabilities, only 10% of which have access to assistive technology to help them live their lives, the GSMA developed the guidelines to encourage the mobile industry to close this gap.

The WHO also found that 80% of people with disabilities are more likely to come from low and middle-income countries, and the GSMA found disabled people from these countries are less likely to own a smartphone or use mobile internet than people without disabilities.

The GSMA claimed mobile phones are the most “cost-effective tools” available to ensure several different assistive technologies to help disabled people are delivered on a single device.

Its framework has been supported by several mobile operators, endorsed by several official bodies, and has been funded using aid from the UK government.

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