The Digital Divide refers to the gap between populations that have access to modern information and communication technologies, and those that have restricted access or none at all. Technologies can include computers, televisions, the Internet, and mobile devices that have changed the way we interact with the world. These technologies give us opportunities to join online communities, gain knowledge, learn skills, and find employment, making lack of access for certain groups of people an important issue in today’s society.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 15% of the world’s population lives with some form of disability, of whom 2–4% experience significant difficulties completing their daily activities independently. In 2017, the population of the world has reached 7.5 billion people. This means that a significant number of people are unable to access technology because it wasn’t designed with everyone in mind. The Pew Internet revealed the extent to which people with disabilities are still on the sidelines of the digital revolution in 2010. 54% of households with a disability use the Internet, compared to 81% of households with no disability in the United States.
People with physical disabilities or diseases that affect hand dexterity like quadriplegia resulting from spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy or stroke are unable to interact with touch screens, mouses, or keyboards without the presence of assistive technology to bridge the gap. However, in addition to those with physical disabilities, the lack of access to personal devices and the Internet is also prevalent among those with cognitive, hearing and visual impairments.
Unfortunately, many assistive technologies can be expensive. Screen readers, text-to-speech software and Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices can all cost more than $1,000 each, and not everyone is aware of the financing or grant opportunities within their country. These factors and more have prevented many from accessing the technology advancements, leaving only a select population with the ability to take advantage of them. In 2017, it is time for designers to integrate accessibility features in their product or service to make it possible for people with disabilities to access them independently.
One inclusive organization that follows principles of accessibility happens to be one of the largest tech companies — Apple. Apple’s accessibility features have improved over the years with the introduction of VoiceOver, Switch Control, and more. These features have opened doors to the millions of people who could not use smartphones because they could not hold or touch the device, read the screen, or hear the commands.
With more access to products with accessibility integration and to assistive technologies like Tecla, we can decrease the gap of people with disabilities affected by the digital divide.