Nigeria beats African peers in closing smartphone ownership gap for persons with disability

There seems to be hope for persons living with disability (PLWD) in Africa’s most populated country, Nigeria, as the smartphone ownership gap closes at 16 percent, the Mobile Disability Gap Report 2021 by the groupe speciale mobile association (GSMA) shows.

According to the report, the widest gap in smartphone ownership is in Algeria where persons with disabilities are 76 percent less likely to own a smartphone than non-disabled persons, and the smallest gap is in Nigeria at 16 percent.

On mobile internet awareness, the report states that persons with disabilities use mobile internet significantly less than non-disabled persons. However, in terms of the disability gap in mobile internet use, Nigeria is the country with the lowest percentage at 11 percent, among the countries the survey was carried out in. Kenya has the record of the highest percentage at 85 percent, followed by Bangladesh at 84 percent, Algeria- 70 percent, and Pakistan at 66 percent.

From the survey carried out, the disability gap in smartphone ownership is wider than the gap in overall mobile ownership in most of the survey countries. This is because persons with disabilities have lower levels of mobile ownership than non-disabled

persons in all countries surveyed.

Bangladesh has the widest gap, where persons with disabilities are 55 percent less likely to own a mobile phone than non-disabled persons, and the smallest gap is in Kenya and Pakistan at 11 percent respectively.

According to GSMA, over one billion people need at least one form of assistive technology (AT), but around 90 percent of them do not have adequate access to the AT they require. This number is expected to double by 2050.

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As of 2020, over 27 million people live with at least one form of disability in Nigeria. While the gaps are narrowing in some survey countries including Nigeria, there is still more work to be done by policymakers, international organisations, non-governmental organisations, organisations for persons with disabilities (OPDs), mobile operators, and other ecosystem players, including start-ups and device manufacturers, to effectively see the impact, measure the growth, as well as drive major growth in countries where applicable.

The intersection of disability and gender

Research by the United Nations and disability rights organisations has shown that women with disabilities are often among the most underserved and marginalised groups in society, subjected to discrimination, and denied access to basic services.

In most of the survey countries, women with disabilities have lower levels of mobile ownership and mobile internet use than men with disabilities and non-disabled women. For example, in countries including Guatemala, India, and Pakistan, women with disabilities have the lowest levels of mobile ownership compared to their male and non-disabled counterparts.

However, in Guatemala, disability is a strong determinant of mobile ownership while, in India and Pakistan, gender plays a more significant role.

In Nigeria, OPDs advocate for the inclusion of women living with disabilities, as they are faced with increased barriers to receiving technology products and services including mobile or smartphones, either as a result of inaccessibility or unavailability.

In addressing the mobile disability gap, the report recommends that accurate and reliable disability-disaggregated data is important to understand and address barriers to the digital inclusion of persons with disabilities. Investment, collaboration, and effective data collection will help to monitor progress and inform the design of inclusive and relevant products, services, and innovations for persons with disabilities.

Also, there should be an increased level of awareness of mobile internet and its benefits for persons with disabilities, develop inclusive products and services that meet the diverse needs of persons with disabilities and build the digital skills of persons with disabilities, as well as ensure products and services are affordable for persons with disabilities.