Are we there yet? The developing state of mobile access equity.

Handouts

Scheduled at 11:30am in Independence on Wednesday, November 16.

#36474

Speaker(s)

  • Salimah LaForce, Research Scientist II, Georgia Institute of Technology

Session Details

  • Length of Session: 1-hr
  • Format: Lecture
  • Expertise Level: Beginner
  • Type of session: General Conference

Summary

To illuminate the current state of mobile phone accessibility, a comparative analysis of mobile phone accessibility features by disability type, phone type (smartphone compared to non-smartphone), provider type, and data collection period (2015-2022) are detailed. Findings showed that the accessibility of mobile phones is improving, but accessibility features are not uniformly available in all phone models. Enabling individuals with disabilities to select from the full range of commercially available devices would ensure continued progress towards an inclusive mobile phone market.

Abstract

Using the CDC's data, one in four persons with a disability is a potential customer, and consumers with disabilities expect meaningful choices for wireless technologies that support engaging in all aspects of society. Despite their purchasing power reportedly being on par with and in some cases exceeding other market segments, the road to mobile access equity has been a long and sometimes uphill. In the mobile technology industry, the low representation of people with disabilities in the design and engineering fields has contributed to the absence of disability experiences and perspectives. Historically, this shortfall led to the creation of mobile devices with low levels of usability and utility for people with disabilities. However, the industry response to address accessibility concerns has led to greater inclusion and improved technical accessibility. The inclusion of people with disabilities in the R&D phases has facilitated an industry practice where accessibility is built-in at the front-end, pre-empting, in many cases, the need for expensive retrofitting of devices by manufacturers and after-market add-ons by consumers. To quantify this progress, researchers conducted five biennial reviews of mobile phone accessibility. The Accessibility Reviews included mobile phone models from the top four wireless carriers, one prepaid carrier, and five Lifeline Carriers. For each phone model, data were collected on the presence of features that impact accessibility and/or were designed to provide access to people with vision, hearing, cognitive and mobility disabilities. The features identified include those used to operate the phone, consume content displayed on the phone, to connect to external assistive technology, or other smart devices that can be controlled via the phone. This presentation shares the results of a comparative analysis of mobile phone accessibility features by disability type, phone type (smartphone compared to non-smartphone), provider type, and data collection period (2015-2022). Findings showed that the accessibility of mobile phones is improving, but accessibility features are not uniformly available in all phone models. Enabling individuals with disabilities to select from the full range of commercially available devices would ensure continued progress towards an inclusive mobile phone market.

Keypoints

  1. There is an interaction between provider type (top carriers compared to Lifeline providers) and level of accessible / assistive mobile phone features.
  2. There are certain accessible /assistive mobile phone features that have reached near-ubiquity while others are only present in half or less than half of the sampled devices.
  3. There are differences in the accessibility levels across devices and documentation of the accessibility features is not always easily discoverable.

Disability Areas

Cognitive/Learning, Deaf/Hard of Hearing, Mobility, Vision

Topic Areas

Research

Speaker Bio(s)

Salimah LaForce

Salimah LaForce is a research scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and the senior policy analyst at Georgia Tech’s Center for Advanced Communications Policy (CACP). She specializes in policy research, identifying and describing intended and unanticipated implementation outcomes. Salimah has 14 years’ experience conducting user needs research, utilizing study results to inform policy and practice recommendations. Salimah is a co-investigator on several federally funded projects to build capacity for inclusive emergency response efforts, improve health outcomes in underserved populations, increase accessibility and usability of wireless technologies, and improve employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities. Salimah is the Principal Investigator for American Sign Language-Accessible Diabetes Education, and the COVID-19 Information Access and Vulnerable Populations projects. She was also the Project Director for the Wireless RERC’s Policy and Outreach Initiatives to Accelerate Adoption of Wireless Technologies. Salimah has co-authored more than 78 federal regulatory filings, papers, presentations, and journal articles.

“Clear & Effective Emergency Communications over Wireless Devices.” @ Colorado 911 Task Force Equal Access Subcommittee Meeting (2021) “The Accessibility Divide in the Mobile Phone Market” @ the 2020 CSUN Assistive Technology Conference “Networked accessibility. What are the opportunities and challenges for harnessing crowd plus cloud?” Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute 2015 State of the Science Conference

Handout(s)