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Disabled consumers significantly more likely to be digitally excluded

Ofcom research on disabled consumers’ access to and use of communications devices and services find a large number are digitally disconnected

Digital exclusion remains a serious problem among the UK’s estimated 12 million people who have a limiting long-term illness, impairment or disability, Ofcom research has revealed.

The regulator spoke to a sample of 4,004 disabled people over the age of 15 in the UK with a particular emphasis on consumers with hearing, visual, mobility or multiple impairments, or learning disabilities.

Ofcom found that internet access had increased among disabled people since its 2013 report, but remained significantly lower for those with a disability at 65%, compared with non-disabled users at 88%. Those with multiple impairments had the lowest levels of access, while visually impaired people and those with learning disabilities were most likely to have internet access.

Disabled people are less likely to have a mobile phone, 85% versus 89%; more likely to maintain a landline, 77% versus 72%; and more likely to have a free-to-air TV service, 60% versus 50%, as opposed to pay-TV, 48% versus 55%.

It is important to note, however, that although the headline statistics showed that the majority of disabled consumers do have access to some form of communications services, not all who did were making use of them.

A fifth of disabled consumers said their condition prevented the use of at least some type of device or service, with notable differences found among consumers with different disability types – for example, visually impaired people may own a television set, but will tend to use it differently; while hearing-impaired consumers are less likely to use telecoms services even though they often owned phones.

The telecoms regulator is obliged under the terms of the 2003 Communications Act to have regard to the needs of persons with disabilities.

It therefore conducts frequent work alongside the British Population Survey to glean better information on the experiences and needs of disabled consumers that can then be used to inform policy work.

In September 2015, a report from the Institution of Engineering and Technology highlighted a missed opportunity to use mobile technology to help disabled consumers get out and about, particularly when it came to using public transport services.

“Better access to modern technology could transform disabled people’s lives, by supporting them to live more independently, and to access services on equal terms,” commented Scope policy head Elliot Dunster.

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