Bridging the Divide: Exploring the use of digital and physical technology to aid mobility impaired people living in an informal settlement

Giulia Barbareschi, Dr Ben Oldfrey, Long Xin, Grace Nyachomba Magomere, Wycliffe Ambeyi Wetende, Carol Wanjira, Joyce Olenja, Vicki Austin, Catherine Holloway
Oct. 5, 2020

Living in informality is challenging. It is even harder when you have a mobility impairment. Traditional assistive products such as wheelchairs are essential to enable people to travel. Wheelchairs are considered a Human Right.

However, they are difficult to access. On the other hand, mobile phones are becoming ubiquitous and are increasingly seen as an assistive technology. Should therefore a mobile phone be considered a Human Right? To help understand the role of the mobile phone in contrast of a more traditional assistive technology – the wheelchair, we conducted contextual interviews with eight mobility impaired people who live in Kibera, a large informal settlement in Nairobi.

Our findings show mobile phones act as an accessibility bridge when physical accessibility becomes too challenging. We explore our findings from two perspective – human infrastructure and interdependence, contributing an understanding of the role supported interactions play in enabling both the wheelchair and the mobile phone to be used. This further demonstrates the critical nature of designing for context and understanding the social fabric that characterizes informal settlements. It is this social fabric which enables the technology to be useable.