Digital inclusion means democratizing the access to information technology, allowing everyone to feel part of this ‘society of knowledge’. This means facilitating access to media channels, ways of learning, and consequently, better living conditions and improved livelihoods.
Three basic tools are needed to bring about digital inclusion:
- A device for connection
- Network access
- Mastery of these tools
It is not enough just to have a smartphone, you need to know how to use it productively.
Another important factor is inclusion and accessibility, which stretches far beyond the world of people with disabilities. It includes all those with minor vision problems, to the elderly and people with poor literacy (illiterates and functional illiterates).
The matter so pressing that in 2011, the United Nations (UN) established the right to Internet access as a ‘Fundamental Right’ to ensure the free expression of thought during the Arab Spring.
So many devices online but still so many challenges to face
According to the GSMA, there are 8.97 billion cell phones in the world. Yes, that’s 1 billion more phones than there are people, but just 3.98 billion actual Internet users are active on these devices.
Overall, the internet has reached 57% of the world’s population, a figure that is brought down by developing countries, such as Nigeria, where only 10% of people have access.
And the average connection speed is still low but it’s rising significantly year on year, with a growth rate of 18% for cell phones and 33% for fixed devices.
A lot of engagement but little mastery of the tools and next to no accessibility
Globally, the average time spent on the Internet is 6 hours and 42 minutes per day and that time is increasingly spent on cell phones, having jumped from 26% in 2014 to 48% in 2019. Of all the reasons for going online, communication, social media and entertainment surpass the search for knowledge and information, which has a greater potential to transform lives. The average time spent per day on social media is 2 hours and 16 minutes.
Another key issue is how to master these tools, i.e. the ability to make good use of technological devices in terms of access, usage, security, digital culture and creation. This shortfall mainly affects demographics such as the elderly and people with low incomes, further widening the gap in terms of professional competitiveness.
Now, on the subject of digital accessibility, we have a very long road ahead. According to the World Bank, 15% of the world’s population lives with some type of disability, which is almost 1 billion people and this number tends to increase as life expectancy goes up. Despite this, most websites are not accessible yet. In February of this year, WebAIM conducted a survey on the 1 million most visited websites. 97.8% of these pages did not conform to WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) standards. In other words, too many people are being left out of the ‘knowledge revolution’.
In addition to technological infrastructure issues, a major challenge is affording people access to quality, transformative content. And that is where audio can help accelerate inclusion, principally by allowing the information to reach the great swathes of the population who have visual or reading difficulties.
“The future is here. It’s just not very evenly distributed.” The phrase coined by writer Willian Gibson over 20 years ago still retains its veracity and nicely illustrates one of the key challenges the world must overcome in order to help reduce educational and social inequality.