Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Disabled face 'digital divide'

Charities have warned disabled people face a 'digital divide'

Disabled people face a "digital divide" with mainstream technology such as smartphones and tablets alienating those with special needs, charities have said.

Researchers for Scope and the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design said many of the UK's 11 million disabled people still have to choose between expensive specialist equipment and inaccessible mainstream gadgets.

They found technology designed for disabled people is often expensive and has low functionality, while mainstream products such as iPads are rarely customised for those with additional needs.

The research, funded by BT's Better Future campaign, also found that emphasis needs to be placed on improving the information available to disabled people about enabling technology.

Scope chief executive Richard Hawkes said: "Modern technology has the potential to transform disabled people's lives - but first we need to get past the digital divide.

"If you are disabled, you are still often stuck between a rock and a hard place. You can spend a fortune on specialist technology, or you can buy the devices that we all use, like iPads and tablets, which are affordable but often inaccessible and hard to adapt.

"We have seen some progress, but there is still huge untapped potential for mainstream devices to support disabled people better."

Ross Atkin, research associate at the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design - endowed by the Helen Hamlyn Trust charity - said there had been progress in recent years in making products more accessible.

He said: "Apple has been building accessibility and adaptability features into their devices as standard. This has made them usable by disabled people, who would previously have been excluded by mainstream technology.

"However, there is much more work to do to ensure that all disabled people can benefit from affordable, powerful, enabling technology and are able to use it to access the digital services essential to increasing their independence."

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