Disabled unaware of assistive telecoms services

3 Oct 2007

People with disabilities are less likely than the general population to have a mobile phone or shop around when buying one, are more interested in a telecoms provider’s reputation than cost when choosing a landline and are more aware of hardware that can assist them in using telecoms products than of customer service initiatives.

Only 5pc of mobile phone users with disabilities have approached their provider directly regarding equipment or services that could aid their use of mobile phone services, a Commission on Communications Regulation (ComReg) survey has revealed.

The survey, carried out by Amarach, found that just 27pc of people with disabilities shopped around to compare prices of operators when looking for a mobile compared with a figure of 41pc for the overall population. Use of prepaid mobile phones is also higher among people with disabilities at 87pc compared with 73pc for the overall population. Some 67pc of mobile users with disabilities have a subscription compared with 85pc in the general population.

Some 44pc of people with disabilities said they thought special equipment for the mobile phone is too expensive for them to purchase.

Only one in four people with disabilities use the internet, compared with a figure of nearly a half for the overall population. People with disabilities are almost half as likely as the general population to have an internet connection at home and are less likely to feel they will get one in the future. Less than 30pc are aware of assistive technologies that can help with using the internet.

Over 70pc of people with disabilities who use the internet believe it is of benefit to them in terms of accessing otherwise unavailable services, however. Internet users with disabilities use it more each week than able-bodied people.

Over 50pc of fixed-line users with disabilities were not aware of any special products, services or provisions made by operators to support their use of their landline. Awareness of items of ‘hardware’ or assistive technology was higher than that of service elements such as customer service initiatives or billing provisions by operators. Less than 10pc had approached their fixed-line provider directly seeking special services or equipment.

Some 28pc of people with disabilities cited the reputation of a fixed-line provider as important when choosing a landline, compared with 17pc of the overall population.

The survey polled 394 people with disabilities aged between 15 and 74 years of age. It covered the vision and hearing impaired, people with physical or intellectual disabilities and psychological or emotional conditions.

In response to the findings, ComReg and the National Disability Authority (NDA) launched a consumer guide entitled ‘Phones and Broadband — a guide for people with disabilities and older people’.

The purpose of the guide is to give straightforward, accessible and useful information on the services available for people with disabilities and for older people. It includes information on services such as Textphone, which converts voice messages into text, and SMS to Speech, with allows people to listen to text messages.

The guide also provides information on accessibility features of home phones and mobile phones as well as specific information on phones that are compatible with hearing aids.

Large print, easy-to-read, braille and audio formats are available on request from both
ComReg and the NDA. An accessible electronic version is also available on www.askcomreg.ie.

“The telecommunications companies play an important role in getting information about accessible services to people with disabilities, and the NDA is pleased to see this support for people with disabilities as customers,” commented Angela Kerins, chairperson of the NDA. “Features such as being able to increase the volume on a phone, or being able to use the hearing aid compatibility feature can benefit many users, both people with disabilities and older people. Other very basic feature such as large buttons on phones can make using the phone easier.”

“Research has shown that many people with disabilities are not aware of the communications services available today and how they might benefit from their use. We believe that this consumer guide can help to raise awareness and to encourage people to take advantage of useful services,” said Mike Byrne, chairperson, ComReg.

By Niall Byrne