back to article Brit comms regulator Ofcom: Disabled left behind by tech

Disabled people are being left behind by the technology industry - both in terms of services and an understanding of what technology can do, a new Ofcom study has claimed. "Fifty-three per cent of disabled people have a smartphone in their household, compared with 81 per cent of non-disabled people... while 67 per cent of …

  1. Starace

    What counts as 'disabled'?

    And is the problem related to mobility, sensory issues, mental heath - what exactly? Grouping everyone together is a very broad brush.

    Most of their stats would point to things being skewed by long term unemployed signed off as 'disabled' with the usual vague mobility/mental health/pain/whatever.

    Meanwhile here am I sat surrounded by people with all sorts of disabilities, some extremely severe, yet they don't seem to be having problems to anything like the same extent this exercise suggested.

    Bound the study with more details than just 'disabled' and they might have produced something useful.

    1. ArrZarr Silver badge

      Re: What counts as 'disabled'?


      The other thing that stuck out to me was that it appears that they're including those in and out of employment, of which you can assume that there will be a higher proportion of disabled people out of employment, leaving them with less disposable income to spend on luxuries like smartphones.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What counts as 'disabled'?

      Generally, the current trend is for people to self identify. That said, it's a little bit of an irrelevance ... disabled people of any strip get a shit (and getting shitter) deal. And you can take that from someone whose wife has MS, fucked eyesight, uses a wheelchair and needs daily care.

      1. The_Idiot

        Re: What counts as 'disabled'?

        You have me _every_ sympathy. Offered sincerely and genuinely - from experience.

        I apologise to those for whom what follows is TMI. Feel free not to read further. But my own wife has Primary Progressive MS. She is fully wheelchair bound, has a colostomy for solid waste and an indwelling catheter for liquid waste, one _I_ have to maintain and replace as a result of cuts to care funding. She is losing the use of her hands and her voice volume is dropping. I still work full time and I'm also her sole carer. I'm in tech, and tech should be a savior for someone whose computer is her sole window on the world. Does it help? Sure. Has the available help changed much in the past ten years she's been chair bound? Not so much. And lord knows I've tried most of what's available. Head mice? Yes. Dragon? Yes. Crossed fingers and hope I don;t come home to find she's finally given up and OD-d? So yes I can't say it loud enough.

        AC, whoever you are, you have my every sympathy - and my hope that, gamer though I am, the tech world takes a little of its eye off a gazillion core cpu with graphics to show the atoms in a hair on the Bad Guy's face - and opens the world to those who have no window to look through but a computer screen.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What counts as 'disabled'?

      >Grouping everyone together is a very broad brush.

      They provide a detailed, cross-referenced breakdown by disability type, age and socio-economic group.

      >Most of their stats would point to things being skewed by long term unemployed signed off as 'disabled'

      Not even vaguely, they are skewed by those beyond retirement age as would be expected since most disabled people are.

      0/10 for reading the report or looking at the data - but an easy 8/10 for your confident regurgitation of typical prejudices.

  2. }{amis}{

    Vision Impared

    My cousin is legally blind with about 20% vision in one eye as such smartphones are almost totally useless to her as the largest phone sizes are far too small.

    so for web browsing, she is stuck with a desktop and 23" monitor set to 250% font scaling, it's one area where Microsoft seems to be well ahead of the pack.

    The problem boils down to money as it always has, disability access is hard to do and represents a small unprofitable user group, much as I am generally in the free-trade business corner it is one area that effective and enforced legislation is a must.

    1. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

      Re: Vision Impared

      I imagine a large enough tablet would need to be something like 20 inchs, which would probably be silly money. Then again I assume brightness is also key for it to be usable for your cousin?

      I am surprised someone mentions MS doing scailing well, as I always thought that was one area Windows sucked at.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Vision Impared

        I've had my eye on, pun fully intended, 22" tablets. The pricing depends on how capable the hardware bits found inside. Here that's at best a temporary solution. I'm staring at becoming a shut-in in the not to distant future. My doctor didn't explain the implications of the most recent diagnoses. I had to go off and dig it up out of the few medical anatomy texts that even allowed that "cervical spondylosis" even exists. (It does, very rare to have it.)

      2. }{amis}{

        Re: Vision Impared

        The scaling code improved massively under windows 8 these days the only stuff that I run into that doesn't scale well is generally old Java stuff.

  3. Steve 114

    Try harder

    Disabled people I know seem disinclined to explore the many facilities available, some need helpers to show what can be done. A partially-sighted legal professional had never even explored the 'magnifier' that's been in Windows since forever. Some software gizmos do need a software licence - hey, cheaper than TV, cheaper than a car?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Try harder

      Having attended a few disability "fairs", all I saw was vastly overpriced tat - basically Android phones/tablets with an eye watering price, and some faux-proprietary "reading" apps.

      As my US based brother noted over here at Xmas, in the US, there's a lot of money in aids and adaptations, as the insurance companies are paying.

  4. Commswonk Silver badge

    "Disabled left behind by tech..."

    I am not going to dispute the raw data, but I find myself wondering if Ofcom has eliminated the effects of the availability of disposable income as a factor. By definition different socio - economic groups have differing amounts of cash to splash about, and it would not be unreasonable to suspect that anyone with a disability will have rather less money than others, irrespective of the socio - economic group to which they ostensibly belong.

    I am well into the 65+ age group and run this (elderly!) PC on FTTC broadband, and while the PC is incurring no direct costs, when it finally conks I would want to replace it, and having the money to replace it is more important than paying for a smartphone as well. I also have a laptop for use when away from home (currently quite often for family reasons) and if that conked I would want to replace it as well. My fixed line B/B costs are more than I would like, as is the cost of running a PAYG data dongle on the laptop when away.

    I have a cheap PAYG cellphone for phone calls & texts when away; I simply have no need for a (costly) smatphone as well. I am not selfie - obsessed and am perfectly happy paying for things with a bank card, credit card, or (heaven help me) with actual cash. I see no value in seeking some sort of social status in brandishing a smartphone around.

    Ofcom may be right, but I would rather see a more comprehensive analysis of the raw data to find out what is really going on as opposed to what seems to be a snap conclusion that might well not be telling the whole story.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Disabled left behind by tech..."

      Smartphones are not necessarily social status although obviously there's a lot of that at the higher end of the market.

      They're really very useful for checking train times, looking up maps, and using web/social media. If you're not so time critical, and do not engage in social media then a smartphone is overkill, but for a lot of people a (cheap) smartphone is very useful. It can also double as a PAYG dongle for your laptop.

  5. Norman Nescio

    Accessibility for the visually disabled sucks

    I am involved with a group of partially-sighted and blind people and have the following observations:

    1) Almost all use iPhones as the built in screen reader and accessibility options that can be turned on are very very good. Not quite excellent, but part of the problem is poorly designed Apps - I'll come back to that. Several have iWatches too, and find them very useful.

    2) Not quite so many use iPads - again, the built in accessibility is good. There is some Android use.

    3) On windows PCs, the JAWS screen reader is pretty good, so long as it 'knows' about the application is is reading the screen for.

    JAWS + Web browser is a variable quantity, depending highly on how the websites have been coded.

    4) Websites - many websites are *TERRIBLE*. Often accessibility is not thought of, so you end up with unlabelled fields, or all having the same fieldname. No thought is given for navigation by screen-reader, so even if the fields and buttons are labelled, you have to laboriously move through the entire head-of-page and/or left-hand menu to get to the text that is different and/or useful on any particular page. Many sites have obviously never been tested for accessibility.

    5) Apps on smartphones - some are good, some have the same failings as websites - it doesn't matter how good the built in accessibility functions are if the app doesn't expose itself to them.

    There are screen magnifiers for the partially-sighted, and those unable to discern text on a screen can use screen readers, or braille displays (which are breathtakingly expensive, and often not supported). Most helping aids are designed around use of Microsoft Windows - in my unrepresentative sample, few used Macs, and none used Linux. It is possible to used Linux from a Braille display - the reasonably well-known Knoppix distribution takes care to support them (Knoppix ADRIANE) because the maintainer's wife is visually disabled - there are other distributions that aim to offer similar capabilities e.g. Talking Arch Linux. There is also emacspeak. My impression is that while there are some dedicated, enthusiastic, and technically accomplished visually-disabled users of Linux, it is not a mainstream choice.

    I suspect most visually disabled people who have a job are forced into using Windows as that is what most businesses use. So even if an Apple Mac has better accessibility it may not have access to the applications used in a business. I know this to be a problem for many - and many business-oriented applications have very poor accessibility. Sometimes it is so bad, a visually disabled worker needs a secretary to operate necessary business applications, which is something very, very, few companies are willing or able to justify.

    The problem is that if visually disabled people find it more and more difficult to access modern IT applications, websites and apps, they will become further marginalized and reliant on sighted helpers. While most people think it won't happen to them, age-related visual disability is a real problem - cataracts are usually operable, but age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma increase in likelihood as you age, so making sure that people with visual disabilities are not left behind by IT is really a form of insurance for yourself. Making the necessary adjustments and learning new ways of doing things often gets more difficult with age, so it is a good idea to make things as simple as possible - which is hard work.

    IT really ought to be an enabler, but too often it is a barrier.


  6. Cuddles Silver badge

    Self reporting

    "Ofcom also found that around half of those with a disability were confident that they understand the language and terminology used by providers, compared to the 75 per cent average."

    It might be more useful to find out how many people actually understand the terminology rather than just asking them how confident they are about it. The Dunning-Kruger effect says that the real percentage is a lot lower, although admittedly it would affect everyone equally regardless of disabilities.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pity, I read it as...

    Ofcom has been disabled and left behind by tech.

    Sigh, we can always dream I suppose - a world without Ofcom, and the sky exactly where it's always been...

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2020