Wireless Technologies and Accessibility for People with Disabilities: Findings from A Policy Research Instrument

Date of Publication: 
2010 October

The near universal deployment in the United States of a wide variety of information and communications technologies, both wired and wireless, creates potential barriers to use for several key populations, including the poor, people with disabilities, and the aging. Equal access to wireless technologies and services can be achieved through a variety of mechanisms, including legislation and regulations, market-based solutions, and awareness and outreach-based approaches. This article discusses the results of policy research conducted by the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Wireless Technologies (Wireless RERC) using policy Delphi polling methodology to probe stakeholders' opinions on key access barrier issues and to explore potential policy responses. Participants included disability advocates, disability/wireless technology policy makers, and product developers/manufacturers. Respondent input informed subsequent development of potential policy initiatives to increase access to these technologies. The findings from the Delphi suggest that awareness issues remain most important, especially manufacturer awareness of user needs and availability of consumer information for selecting the most appropriate wireless devices and services. Other key issues included the ability of people with disabilities to afford technologies and inadequacies in legislation and policy making for ensuring their general accessibility, as well as usefulness in emergencies. Technical issues, including interoperability, speech-to-text conversion, and hearing aid compatibility, were also identified by participating stakeholders as important. To address all these issues, Delphi respondents favored goals and options congruent with voluntary market-driven solutions where possible but also supported federal involvement, where necessary, to aid this process.


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