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10 Insights on Mobile Usage by Persons with Disabilities in Kenya and Bangladesh

By Wayan Vota on February 26, 2020

disability mobile phone usage

Over a billion people worldwide live with a form of disability. This represents 15 per cent of the global population; 80 per cent of whom live in a low- or middle-income country.

While there is growing recognition that mobile technology has the potential to deliver services to persons in need, there has been limited research to understand access to mobile phones by persons with disabilities and the impact of mobile technology in their lives.

New research from the GSMA aims to bridge the knowledge gap and to understand the potential of mobile phones as assistive technologies (ATs) for persons with disabilities in Kenya and Bangladesh.

Understanding the Mobile Disability Gap presents, for the first time, an evaluation of the gap and barriers to mobile phone ownership experienced by persons with disabilities, as well as the usage patterns of four main mobile-enabled services (voice, SMS, mobile internet and mobile money) and the role of mobile phones to enable access to basic services, such as education, healthcare, transportation, employment and financial services. Finally, the report explores the characteristics of access and usability of mobile products and services along the customer journey.

10 Insights on Mobile Usage by Persons with Disabilities

1. Mobile ownership is high among persons with disabilities

However, they are less likely to own a mobile phone than non-disabled persons. More than 70 per cent of those who own a mobile phone have a basic or feature handset. The level of education, the type of disability, and gender are all determinants of mobile phone ownership, including the type of mobile phone owned.

2. People often access a mobile phone by borrowing one

Yet, based on the present research, four per cent of persons with disabilities in Kenya and 13 per cent in Bangladesh still do not own or have access to a mobile phone, compared to three per cent and five per cent of non-disabled persons, respectively.

3. There is no clear mobile phone usage gap

In fact, for certain services, persons with disabilities are “power-users” of some mobile-enabled services. In both countries, deaf and blind individuals, for instance, show particularly high usage of mobile internet. Access to accessibility features—mostly available on smartphones—seem to influence and drive usage. Persons with disabilities with access to such features also make higher usage of mobile services.

4. Cost is a barrier to mobile phone ownership and usage

Cost of handsets and services, low digital literacy, and the disability itself are factors preventing access and ownership of mobile phones, as well as autonomous and confidential use of mobile-enabled services.

5. Impact of gender and disability varies by country.

In Bangladesh where the gender gap is remarkably large, being a woman is a higher determinant factor of mobile ownership than disability. In Kenya, where there is almost a non-existent gender gap in mobile ownership, disability is a greater determinant than gender.

6. Access to basic services is limited

In both countries, access to basic services is limited, especially among persons with disabilities. However, persons with disabilities perceive that mobile phones enable access to basic services. The perceived impact of mobile phones to access basic services is greater in Kenya, where the mobile ecosystem is more developed than in Bangladesh.

7. Access is limited by disabilities and stigma

The main barriers for persons with disabilities to physically attend basic services are the additional costs and limitations due to their disability, as well as stigma and discrimination from family members, service providers or other users of basic services. The lack of inclusive design of infrastructures and physical services is an additional barrier.

8. Most persons with disabilities do not use accessibility features

Due to the lack of awareness of their existence, most persons with disabilities do not use accessibility features (such as screen-readers, magnifiers, voice command, etc.) which limits their capacity to use mobile phones autonomously. Furthermore, these features are almost exclusively available on smartphones. Consequently, lack of use of accessibility features impacts the perceived value of mobile phones as assistive technologies.

9. MNOs lack awareness of needs of persons with disabilities

Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) lack awareness of the specific needs of persons with disabilities when using a mobile phone and services. While solutions and technologies exist to make these more accessible, they are not always implemented by MNOs because of this lack of awareness.

10. Stakeholders should improve mobile accessibility, affordability and relevance

Stakeholders and the mobile and disability ecosystems need to improve the accessibility, affordability and relevance of mobile products and services for persons with disabilities. However, to maximise the potential of mobile as an assistive tool, digital skills training for persons with disabilities is essential.

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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of his employer, any of its entities, or any ICTWorks sponsor.
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