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Lack of awareness stopping disabled people using the internet

Tuesday, June 2nd 2015 by Dean Reilly

Disabled internet users have spoken out after a recent report claimed that half of people who have stopped going online have a disability.

The Internet Users 2015 report from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) reported that 48% of ‘lapsed’ internet users – people who had not been online in the last three months – identified themselves as being disabled.

This was in spite of people with a disability making up only 17% of the UK population.

Speaking about the disproportionate figure, Rebecca Morgan, senior accessibility analyst at the Digital Accessibility Centre (DAC), told Cable.co.uk: “I question the results a little. At the end of the article it says the Office of National Statistics uses the term disabled to refer to respondents who self-assess that they have a disability in line with the Equality Act.

“The figure represents the amount of people that identified themselves as being disabled. I know some people that have a disability that do not class themselves as being disabled.”

Ms Morgan, who has limited mobility and uses keyboard only/voice activation software, added that although accessibility may play a small part in disabled people drifting away from internet use, it was unlikely to be the main reason.

She said: “I think it’s about access to information and resources. There are so many people out there with disabilities that do not know what is out there to help them.

“As a result they are either not attempting to use the internet or struggling to use a set-up that doesn’t work for them then giving up.

“Also, some of the things that people need are expensive, meaning that they may not be able to afford to have the set-up that they need.”

'Extremely difficult'

Jaime Purvis, DAC screen reader team leader, agreed. He said: “I think that the issue isn’t so much accessibility as awareness, we don’t see adverts for JAWS, TalkBack or VoiceOver (assistive technology) even though PCs and smartphones are advertised on practically an hourly basis.”

Mr Purvis (pictured), who is blind and uses screen reader technology – software that reads on-screen text out loud – added: “Although accessibility may not be considered important to some designers they may think differently if they could see the technologies in use or at least being advertised.

“This in turn would boost the overall awareness of the technologies and the accessibility features, giving the general public more awareness of their existence.”

Mike Jones, DAC screen reader analyst, said it’s a “great shame” that so many people have stopped using the internet.

He told Cable.co.uk: “Although technology has rocketed forward in the accessibility field in the last decade, society in general is still largely unaware of accessibility and the needs of someone that is disabled.

“As a blind user it is surprising how many of the mainstream websites are to some extent inaccessible, with many websites being extremely difficult to navigate.”

Mr Jones, one of 18 staff with disabilities in the 22-member team at the not-for-profit social enterprise, concluded that internet users will simply stop trying if a website is inaccessible.

'Empower lives'

For telecoms accessibility expert Jonathan Kaye, although the picture presented by the ONS report is worrying, the reality could be more complicated.

Mr Kaye, who is quadriplegic, told Cable.co.uk: “I absolutely question the figures put out by the Office of National Statistics because I think that some people will not understand [that] when you’re using a mobile phone, you’re probably using the internet.

“I’m not so worried about the fact that people are leaving the internet behind. What I’m worried about is leaving behind the potential to empower lives and to enable independent living.”

Mr Kaye, who is on the accessibility committee of the Digital Television Group and is a former member of the Ofcom Advisory Committee on Older & Disabled People, added: “This is what’s being missed by tech companies, handset designers and television operators.”

Cable.co.uk previously reported how telecoms regulator Ofcom delayed changes to stricter rules about sign language programming on TV, while giving broadcasters more time to hit accessibility spending targets.

The postponed changes to UK broadcasting accessibility rules were announced less than one month after Netflix introduced audio description for blind subscribers to the streaming TV service.

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