I’m going to start this post with a rather insignificant personal anecdote, but rest assured I’m building up to bigger things…
Early this morning, pursuing a personal vice nurtured since childhood, I bounded along to the local branch of a well known national video game retailer, planning to grab myself a copy of a newly released and hotly anticipated game. On arrival, I was shocked to discover that the price tag on the game was a whopping £5 more than advertised on their own online store – a 14% mark-up. On principle, I left empty handed.
Luckily, I have the luxury of going home tonight and browsing for a better deal online. But what about those who can’t shop online? They would be stuck with paying the premium rate.
I got to work and didn’t think any more about it, until I read the excellent and profound article on the BBC Ouch blog – Martha Lane Fox talking about the case for getting more disabled people online.
“We know now that if you are online, even from a low income household, you save £200 a year, net, of the computer and internet connection.”
“Direct debits, switching energy deals, searching around for deals; you are massively disadvantaged economically now, if you are not online.”
Martha Lane Fox, UK digital champion
There are so many arguments for helping people to get online (many of which were explored at the recent GovCamp Scotland, which culminated in the signing of a digital participation charter for Scotland). Whilst many of the impacts can be hard to measure (though arguably far more profound), it’s good to see some cold hard figures that underline the economic imperative of helping people get online.
Couple that with the main story behind Martha Lane Fox’s article – that over 4.25 million disabled people in the UK are not online (worryingly, over half of the 8.43 million of all UK residents not online), and you can really start to perceive the impact of digital exclusion.
In the same article, Nigel Lewis from AbilityNet suggested why he thought so many disabled people remained disconnected:
“Often it’s because it is not accessible to them. Either they can’t engage with and use the standard computer out of the box, and so it needs adapting in some way, or the online services, the websites, are not accessible with their adaptive technology.”
Nigel Lewi, CEO of AbilityNet
One of the major messages in the aforementioned charter for Scotland was that we all have a part to play: friends and neighbours helping to support people to log on; tech companies helping to make the necessary devices readily available to those who need it; telecomms companies working with communities to improve connectivity; online providers making their products and services truly accessible; and local and central government pushing the digital agenda across all sectors.
I have no doubt that every reader of this post will fit into one or more of the above categories. I’d therefore urge everyone to take a moment to reinforce that message in their own minds – it won’t truly be the World Wide Web until everyone is online.