A Preliminary Study to Understand How Mainstream Accessibility and Digital Assistive Technologies Reaches People in Lower- and Middle-Income Countries

Catherine Holloway, Katherine Perry, Felipe Ramos Barajas, Dr Ben Oldfrey, Priya Morjaria, Tigmanshu Bhatnagar, George Torrens
Sept. 30, 2021

From RESNA Annual Conference 2021:

INTRODUCTION

Access to information on digital platforms not only facilitates education, employment, entertainment, social interaction but also facilitates critical governmental services, ecommerce, healthcare services and entrepreneurship [1]. Article 9 of United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) enforces its signatories to commit to provide full accessibility to every citizen of the nation [2]. This has helped to spearhead accessibility directives such as the European Accessibility Act [3] that aims to improve the functioning of markets for accessible products and services. Such directives contribute to ensure that mainstream digital technologies (smartphones, computers etc.) are accessible for everyone and without being socially remarkable, they are able to assist in daily living. Additionally, there is evidence that improving access in mainstream technologies  improves product experience and usability for everyone [4]. However, mainstream access has not been fully realized, leading to inferior opportunities for people with disabilities, a disparity which is more prominent in lower and middle-income countries [5].

Furthermore, it is important to note that there is a practical limitation to the amount of access and assistance that mainstream digital devices can facilitate. Specialist Digital Assistive Technologies (Digital AT) are therefore required such as Refreshable Braille Displays, Augmentative and Alternate Communication devices, and specialist applications/software. With Digital AT, people with disabilities can access information on digital platforms and communicate through them independently. However, Digital AT can put an additional burden of purchasing and learning them on the person with disability [6] and their use in social situations may attract curiosity which can lead to stigmatization of the user and even abandonment [7]. There is also a need to build capacity to train people with disabilities and raise awareness about the number of affordable and inexpensive Digital AT solutions that are already available [8].

Amidst these challenges, there is little that we know about how mainstream accessibility and Digital AT in practice reaches people in lower and middle-income countries (LMICs). In this study, eight experts were interviewed who are established in the domain of training people with disabilities, advising on policy and facilitating access and Digital AT, and shared their diverse experiences. The insights we assimilate from these conversations should help developers of accessibility and Digital AT solutions to more effectively deliver products and services to those in need. The same insights should also provide a better understanding of the market to business strategists to deliver pathways to accessibility and Digital AT.

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