We are thrilled to publish the final report sharing findings from a research project conducted in five informal settlements across the cities of Banjarmasin, Indonesia and Freetown, Sierra Leone, in 2020- 2021. This research explored the attitudes towards, access to and use of mobile phones and other information and communication technologies amongst people with disabilities, carers, older people, and potential assistive technology users in these communities. This research was conducted as one strand of a sub-programme of the AT2030 Research Programme.
AT2030, led by the Global Disability
Hub, is an international programme focused on “Life Changing
Assistive Technology for All”, that aims to reach over 3 million people, in
particular people with disabilities.
The objective is to develop new
approaches that can transform
access to assistive technology (AT)
such as wheelchairs, prosthetics,
hearing aids, glasses and digital
assistance (including smart
phones and accessible software)
by creating partnerships to build
and shape markets, strengthen
public infrastructure and support
The research shared in this report was conducted as part of an AT2030 sub-programme focused on community-led AT solutions, led by The Bartlett Development Planning Unit at UCL in partnership with Leonard Cheshire (UK), Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre (Sierra Leone), and Yayasan Kota Kita Surakarta (Indonesia).
The use and ownership of mobile information and communication technologies (ICTs) such as mobile phones and smartphones has grown rapidly around the world over the last two decades. ICTs have penetrated across high- and low-resource contexts, particularly as a result of the unprecedented spread of mobile phones. This has changed the ways that we navigate almost all dimensions of our lives, from managing interpersonal relationships to conducting livelihood activities, accessing services to handling finances. Advances in the functionality, speed and availability of mobile devices and infrastructure, have generated significant interest in the use of mobile phones within both health and development.
When it comes to people with disabilities (PWD), inequalities in access to services and resources are well documented. Income inequalities faced by PWD are compounded by the ‘accessibility gap’ created by exclusionary institutions and spatial planning practices, which exclude PWD from using and experiencing spaces and services on an equal basis with non-disabled people.
Appropriate assistive technologies (ATs) can play a crucial role in bridging this accessibility gap. Mobile phones and other ICTs have the potential - and indeed, have been used - to act as enablers in supporting people with disabilities to overcome some of these barriers to social, civic and economic participation. Mobile phones can provide access to and information about ATs, or act as ATs themselves.
However, there are faulty assumptions commonly made when it comes to how mobile phones and other ICTs can be used in this way. These assumptions can result from a failure to situate mobile phones and other ICTs in particular contexts, and to take account of the nuances that surround their use in those contexts. Different people access, use and value the mobile phone in vastly different ways, shaped by geography, gender, age, class and ability. If we don’t contextualise mobile phone use, we end up making assumptions that essentialise or universalise digital experiences. This leads to poor design and implementation of both interventions and products, which can end up amplifying inequalities rather than undoing them, or even further exclude some groups.
Leveraging the mobile phone to support positive outcomes for health and development therefore requires a deep understanding of the behaviours and motivations surrounding mobile phone use in particular contexts, in order to identify barriers, motivations, needs and solutions. This research is an attempt to generate this intersectional understanding.
Focused on five case study communities in Banjarmasin, Indonesia and Freetown, Sierra Leone, this research explores the attitudes, access to and use of ICTs, chiefly mobile phones, amongst disabled people, carers, older people and potential AT users, and seeks to situate these behaviours and perceptions within their day-to-day realities.
Through analysis of the quantitative and qualitative data, we have identified six archetypal “characters” that recur across both settings, and have mapped out their archetypal characteristics of access, use, attitude and aspiration regarding mobile phones. In this way, we hope to embed their relationships with ICT within their day-to-day realities.
These character profiles will serve as a useful framework for design, analysis, M&E to inform further thinking for all important stakeholders in the domain including researchers, implementers and mobile phone- based companies.