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The case for getting more disabled people online

Emma Emma | 15:41 UK time, Thursday, 17 November 2011

Martha Lane Fox

UK digital champion Martha Lane Fox was a guest on You and Yours this lunchtime discussing the recent finding that 4.25 million disabled adults have never used the internet.

The figure, from the Office of National Statistics, represents over half of the 8.43 Million people not yet on the net in the UK, meaning that disabled people are amongst the most disadvantaged minority groups.

As leader of Race Online 2012, the nation wide initiative to get as many people as possible using the internet in time for next year's Olympic Games, Martha described how and why she hopes web access for disabled people can be improved.

"Firstly it's very important to recognise that there's an enormous benefit for disabled people to be online. Therefore we should work hard to create technologies that are easier to use and to bring the price points down of the technologies that are out there already."

"I'd like to see more championing of the opportunity for technology to transform disabled people's lives, and perhaps some bolder and bigger thinking around how we can solve some of these problems."

Joining her on Radio 4's daily consumer programme was Nigel Lewis, CEO of AbilityNet, the disability and technology charity of which Martha has recently become a patron.

Those 4.25 million disabled people who have never been online represent a sizeable 36.3 percent of all disabled adults. If we look at non-disabled people, we find that it's a much smaller 10.3 percent.

Nigel Lewis explains why he believes disabled people make up such a large proportion of those not yet surfing the web.

"Often it's because it is not accessible to them. Either they can't engage with and use the standard computer out of the box, and so it needs adapting in some way, or the online services, the websites, are not accessible with their adaptive technology."

Commenting on whether the price of technology is a barrier for disabled people, Martha Lane Fox said that by investing in a computer and internet connection, consumers will notice significant financial savings in the long run.

"We know now that if you are online, even from a low income household, you save £200 a year, net, of the computer and internet connection."

"Direct debits, switching energy deals, searching around for deals; you are massively disadvantaged economically now, if you are not online."

At the conclusion of the You and Yours discussion, Martha described the impact that assistive technologies can have on lives.

"There's something wondrous for particularly heavily disabled people, when they suddenly can access a world that perhaps was forbidden before."

Martha became disabled herself due to a serious car accident in 2004.

At a recent event she said:

"I crawled back, from nearly death, by using the internet to keep in touch with family and friends, to buy clothes, to eat food. All the other things you need to do when you walk with a stick, or two sticks or in a wheelchair."

"At the weekend I was with my tetraplegic uncle. He has just got an iPad and, with the one finger he can move, he can now use technology in a completely different way. It still gives me goosebumps to think of how that is changing his life."

You and Yours airs Monday to Friday at noon on Radio 4. Catch up afterwards on the BBC iPlayer.


  • Comment number 1.

    "Direct debits, switching energy deals, searching around for deals; you are massively disadvantaged economically now, if you are not online." - This is going to become even more relevant in the coming years as more and more businesses develop that ONLY exist online.

    Disabled people are missing out on new opportunities and experiences if they don't make use the internet of / don't have the support required to get them online.

  • Comment number 2.

    But when many disabled people are having to choose between eating and heating, because their finances won't stretch to both, when government is hammering those finances ever harder in their ideological jihad against supposed scroungers, where exactly are they going to find the money to be able to invest in a computer and broadband? Non-disabled people in similar situations at least have the opportunity to get out and access the net in a library of perhaps and internet cafe, but for disabled people even those options may be denied them.

  • Comment number 3.

    Loved the show, but would appreciate more information advertised about how to make the web more accessible. Case in point the Ouch homepage has no information on it on how to make the site accessible to users. Yet the BBC has a fantastic resource page on how to do this. I’ve advised many a friend to visit and they’ve stated how useful this information is. Maybe ouch should link this page to their home page. People will sue what’s available if they know how too, education on accessibility must be paramount for users and designers.

  • Comment number 4.

    It is awful that so many don’t have access to such an important platform. The information available on the net today can help people connect with others that have similar disabilities and also provide access to vast quantities of relevant information.

    The more disabled people who have access to the internet the better. Once this has been achieved then even sites that might not have a disability focus can be harnessed. Sites like allow users to add recipes and, more importantly, methods and tools for cooking. I would like to see a site such as this being harnessed in the future by those with disabilities, so they can swap and discuss problems disabilities can lead to in the kitchen and how to overcome them. Knowledge, experience and the sharing of it can only ever be helpful. YouTube could also be a great way of sharing knowledge. The possibilities are endless, especially with the social networks available today.

  • Comment number 5.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?


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