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Smartphones and equal access for people who are blind or have low vision

Blindness Mobile phones Smart devices Vision disorders Digital communications Australia

This report explores the way Vision Australia clients are using smartphone technology in their everyday lives. It details findings of the research project, Smartphones and equal access for people who are blind or have low vision, conducted in collaboration with Vision Australia. The research centred on a survey conducted during February and March 2020 that aimed to explore the usage patterns and experience of using a smartphone for people with low vision or blindness. It aimed to discover how important the smartphone is for this cohort, what they use their device for, what limitations or obstacles they face, and what might make the smartphone more useful and accessible for them.

The report has three parts. Part 1 begins with a background review of previous studies into how people who are blind or have low vision use smartphones, finding that studies have traditionally approached this from a technological perspective with the aim to resolve accessibility issues with a technological solution. By comparison, this report focuses on the user, aiming to better understand the relationship between smartphone use and low vision and blind users in order to gauge if and where accessibility issues arise.

Part 2 is concerned with the findings of, and offers discussion on, the results of the survey. A total of 845 people participated in the survey. Detailed insights were gained into three core components: participant demographics (including age, type of vision impairment and their living context); smartphone use; and app use. Questions were designed to capture information on who owned and used a smartphone, and the breadth of and limitations on this use.

As the survey drew to a conclusion towards the end of March 2020, Australia began to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The effect of this on the way people with low vision or blindness used technology, including the smartphone, was anticipated to be significant. Part 3 of the report therefore communicates findings of an additional interview stage focused only on the effects of COVID-19.

From a sample of 83 participants in the survey who had indicated they would like to be a part of further research, 13 individuals across Australia between the ages 23-83 were asked eight questions about their smartphone use during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to gauge if and how this threat to individual health, isolation and rapidly shifting federal and state regulations around social distancing shifted the way participants interacted with their smartphone.

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