The Social Network: How People with Visual Impairment use Mobile Phones in Kibera, Kenya

Catherine Holloway, Dr Giulia Barbareschi, Katherine Arnold, Grace Magomere, Wycliffe Ambeyi Wetende, Gabriel Ngare, Joyce Olenja
May 4, 2020


Living in an informal settlement with a visual impairment can be very challenging resulting in social exclusion. Mobile phones have been shown to be hugely beneficial to people with sight loss in formal and high-income settings. However, little is known about whether these results hold true for people with visual impairment (VIPs) in informal settlements. We present the findings of a case study of mobile technology use by VIPs in Kibera, an informal settlement in Nairobi. We used contextual interviews, ethnographic observations and a co-design workshop to explore how VIPs use mobile phones in their daily lives, and how this use influences the social infrastructure of VIPs. Our findings suggest that mobile technology supports and shapes the creation of social infrastructure. However, this is only made possible through the existing support networks of the VIPs, which are mediated through four types of interaction: direct, supported, dependent and restricted.

This paper on how social interactions mediate the use of mobile phones by visually impaired people in Kibera, Kenya was accepted to the CHI2020 Conference, a global event on Human-Computer Interaction.


The social networks of VIPs living in Kibera were fundamentally important in shaping both how and why VIPs used their mobile phones. We have presented two studies; a series of interviews and observations, followed by a codesign workshop that looked at the way VIPs used their mobile phones and how this use was shaped by, and in turn shaped, their social networks. Results from the first study show the social networks in Kibera for VIPs are comprised of four types of interaction with their mobile phone. VIPs often used their mobile themselves to reach out to their friends and families (direct interactions). When support was needed VIPs looked for help among close relations, neighbors and trusted technology advisors (supported interactions). To access financial services through the mobile phones, VIPs had to rely on shopkeepers and mobile agents (dependent interactions), sharing private information and handing over cash which required full trust and involved an element of risk for participants. The inaccessibility of certain mobile services due to cost, the lack of digital literacy of the VIP and the limited capabilities of the mobile phone, restricted certain interactions (restricted interactions). Our second study demonstrated future interactions would result in full inclusion of VIPs, through unrestricted interactions allowing VIPs to be valued members of society.