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Ofcom: Disabled people less likely to have internet access

Monday, October 5th 2015 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

Disabled consumers are less likely to have internet access than people who do not have a disability, according to research by Ofcom.

A report from the telecoms regulator, published last week, also found that disabled people are less likely to have access to mobile phones and pay TV – but more likely to have a landline phone and free-to-air TV.

Responding to the findings, disability charities say not getting online makes many everyday tasks more difficult and can even make life more expensive if you cannot compare prices and find the best rates for services.

The report, Disabled consumers’ use of communications services, surveyed 4,004 disabled consumers and 15,859 non-disabled consumers between August and November 2014.

It found that internet access among disabled consumers (65%) was significantly lower than for non-disabled consumers (88%).

Only 49% of consumers with multiple impairments had internet access, compared to 75% of visually-impaired consumers and 73% of those with a learning disability.

Beth Grossman, head of policy at disability charity Scope, said: “The internet is an integral part of modern life, but over a third of disabled people still have no access to it.

“If you’re not online it can be difficult to find a job, search for suitable products, compare prices, seek out advice and information and get the best rate for utilities.

“Life also costs more if you are disabled. Scope research shows that this adds up to on average £550 per month. Internet access is a key tool that disabled people can use to help bring this premium down.”

The report also found that although access to smartphones among disabled consumers had increased from 27% to 41%, it was still well below the 66% of non-disabled consumers.

The research revealed that 77% of disabled consumers had a landline phone in their home compared to 72% of non-disabled consumers. This difference was attributed to the older age profile of the disabled consumers.

'Barriers for disabled people'

Visually-impaired consumers and those with learning disabilities (75% and 66% respectively) had similar levels of access to a landline as non-disabled consumers.

Access to free-to-air TV services such as Freeview or Freesat was higher among disabled respondents (60%) than non-disabled consumers (50%), although this has decreased since 2012 for both groups.

However, disabled consumers (48%) were less likely to have access to pay TV services like Sky or Virgin than non-disabled consumers (55%).

Ms Grossman added: “The government’s digital inclusion strategy has identified poor digital skills and inaccessible web content as key barriers for disabled people using the internet.

“The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) should investigate this issue further.

“The government has a plan to improve and train people in digital sills and it’s imperative that disabled people are a key part of this project.”

Ismail Kaji, a spokesperson for Mencap, said: “More needs to be done to get more people with a learning disability online, especially as more information and services that are really important are going online as well, such as bank statements, paying bills and applying for benefits.

“However, accessing the internet can often be difficult for people with a learning disability and it is not made easy with confusing manuals, forms and website.

“Once online it is also really important people get information on how to stay safe.”

Mr Kaji, who has a learning disability, said he has signed up to services because he didn’t understand the emails asking for his personal details.

“I realised later it was for a subscription and I had to call up and cancel, which was very expensive.

“There needs to be more information out there on how people can and should access the internet. Especially as cyber bullying is a real problem for people with a learning disability.”

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