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A fifth of disabled people are living without the internet

Thursday, March 16th 2017 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

Disabled people are still significantly less likely to have internet access than those without a disability – despite an increase in the number of disabled consumers able to get online.

Ofcom’s Access and Inclusion report found that 79% of disabled consumers have access to the internet, up from 65% in 2014.

But that still means a fifth of disabled people cannot get online. By way of comparison, 94% of non-disabled consumers have access to the internet.

The report says disabled consumers across the board are less likely not only to have internet access but to have access to a smartphone, laptop, tablet or smart TV than those with no disability.

People with learning disabilities are also less likely to have access to a landline phone and are the most likely to say their disability impacts their use of a particular device or service.

Amy Clark, a social media assistant at the charity Mencap, said: “It’s not good to see that a lot of people with a learning disability are living without the internet.

“Being able to communicate and manage your life can be very hard for some people with a learning disability in such a digital world.”

She said that, as someone with a learning disability herself, she “couldn’t imagine living without” her tablet as it has so many uses and “connects [her] to the world”.

“Companies need to make sure that they are providing accessible digital services for people with a learning disability and helping to make sure that their devices and help services can be understood by everyone.

“Nobody wants to feel patronised or ignored, people with a learning disability want to have the same opportunities as everyone else and that includes access to the internet.”

'Digitally excluded'

The report, based on a survey of 16,000 non-disabled and 4,000 disabled consumers, says internet access among hearing and visually-impaired consumers is “broadly comparable” to that of non-disabled consumers across most demographic sub-groups.

But consumers with mobility impairments or multiple impairments reported “significantly” lower levels of access in every sub-group.

Ofcom, in the report, says that as “telecoms, broadband and connected devices become more important, those who are digitally excluded become worse off.

“Over six million have never used the internet and 10.5m feel they do not have the digital skills to participate fully in society.”

James Taylor, head of policy and public affairs at disability charity Scope said: “Ofcom’s report highlights that there is still a significant digital divide between disabled people and the general population.

“One in five disabled consumers don’t have access to the internet. This has a huge social and financial impact.”

The government, as part of its UK Digital Strategy, will invest £1.1m through the NHS on projects to support digital inclusion.

This is expected to help the most digitally excluded groups in society – including disabled people, homeless people, those with mental health problems and prisoners – develop digital skills and get online.

Mr Taylor added: “Better access to technology could transform disabled people’s lives and support them to live more independently. Getting online is increasingly important when looking for work, finding the best deals, planning a journey, and socialising.

“It’s crucial the government’s Digital Strategy tackles this digital exclusion as well as the barriers disabled people face getting online.”

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