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Principles for Driving the Digital Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities

By Wayan Vota on July 22, 2021

gsma disability principles

Around 15 per cent of the world’s population, or an estimated one billion people are persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities are at a disadvantage regarding most Sustainable Development Goals.

Barriers to inclusion and participation are exacerbated by the lack of access to affordable, relevant assistive technology. Only one in 10 people have access to the assistive technology they need to live independent and autonomous lives.

Connectivity is more important than ever and as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic the world’s reliance on internet platforms to access critical information, services and opportunities has never been greater.

The Mobile Disability Gap

Mobile phones are cost effective tools for persons with disabilities, and are increasingly enabling greater inclusion by clustering together multiple assistive technologies in a single device.

Despite its importance, mobile access and use remains unequal. Evidence from GSMA research shows that there is a significant gap in mobile phone ownership among persons with disabilities and that persons with disabilities are less likely to own smartphones and use mobile internet than persons without disabilities.

For mobile operators, there is an opportunity to reach more persons with disabilities, diversifying and extending their customer base. The provision of more accessible design and services will also likely benefit their existing customer base.

Ensuring digital inclusion is critical and requires informed action for all stakeholders to address the barriers faced by persons with disabilities and to meet their needs. Now is the time for the mobile industry to take action to ensure their products and services are accessible to persons with disabilities so that they can benefit from mobile services on an equal basis with others.

Digital Inclusion Principles for Persons with Disabilities

In conjunction with mobile operators and disability and accessibility experts, the GSMA has developed a set of principles to advance the digital inclusion of persons with disabilities. These principles provide a framework for action for the industry along with a set of potential activities that can be carried out by mobile operators in order to reduce the gap in access and use of mobile-enabled products and services by persons with disabilities.

1. Embrace disability inclusion at every level

To drive digital inclusion and reach persons with disabilities with mobile-enabled products and services, it is critical to focus on disability at an organisational level, to ensure disability inclusion is embedded across the organisation, supported by relevant policies and strategies, and spearheaded by senior leadership.

Moreover, persons with disabilities bring unique perspectives and skills to drive innovation and stimulate creativity within the workforce. Embracing diversity is a driver of commercial success.

Within this principle there are the following areas of action, focused on ensuring that:

  • The disability inclusion agenda is championed by leadership and embedded in all levels of the organisation
  • Disability inclusion is integrated in internal policies, strategies, business plans and KPIs
  • Employees believe in disability inclusion as a core organisational value
  • Persons with disabilities can and do thrive in the organisation

2. Reach and serve persons with disabilities

Actions to drive the digital inclusion of persons with disabilities must be informed by an understanding of the local issues and local contexts, and ensuring persons with disabilities’ voices are heard: “nothing about us, without us”.

Disability inclusive data are key to eliminate discrimination and develop a better understanding of the requirements, views and barriers of persons with disabilities in order to better serve them. Examples of such evidence includes collecting information on the mobile disability gaps in different contexts; learning from persons with different disabilities; and evaluating the commercial opportunities for developing new or enhancing existing products and services.

Within this principle there are the following areas of action, focused on ensuring that:

  • Disability-disaggregated data is collected and analysed to understand the mobile disability gap
  • The commercial opportunity for reaching persons with disabilities with mobile-enabled products and services is established to ensure sustainability and scalability
  • The barriers and requirements of persons with disabilities in accessing and using mobile-enabled products and services are understood

3. Deliver inclusive products and services

Persons with disabilities face a number of inter-related barriers that prevent them from accessing and using mobile-enabled products and services. For example, evidence from GSMA research shows many persons with disabilities do not know about relevant accessible mobile products; and internet-enabled handsets, which are typically the most accessible, are often unaffordable to persons with disabilities.

Action is required to address the barriers and requirements of persons with disabilities, drive innovation, place persons with disabilities at the heart of the design process and realise the social and commercial opportunity of reaching this underserved segment of the population.

Within this principle there are the following areas of action, focused on ensuring that:

  • Handsets, content, products and services are accessible and affordable for persons with disabilities
  • Content, products and services are relevant to persons with disabilities
  • Customer engagement is designed with persons with disabilities in mind
  • Persons with disabilities have the digital skills and literacy to use mobile-enabled products and services, and are aware of and understand the benefits mobile can bring
  • Persons with disabilities feel safe and secure using mobile content, products and services

Filed Under: Connectivity
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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks and is the Digital Health Director at IntraHealth International. 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 IntraHealth International or other ICTWorks sponsors.
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One Comment to “Principles for Driving the Digital Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities”

  1. This Digital Inclusion for persons with disabilities,especially in West-Africa is highly commendable.
    But,a very big snag is still in the area of the accessibility and the affordability of the Handsets,as many of these persons cannot afford the devices.
    I believe that through some reliable NGOs,like the”Unemployed Youth Africa Inc”, that l represent, if given the necessary financial support,would distribute them in bigger quantities to the disable people.We have been doing lots of charitable works for years in West-Africa.(Nigeria& Sierra-Leon),these mobile devices can be made very available to their benefit,and they would be taught the necessary digital skills as well.