Author: Audima

What is digital inclusion and what stage are we at with it?

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: 

  1. A device for connection
  2. Network access
  3. 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.

This is the sound of digital inclusiveness and it’s our reason for being

Audima was founded in 2017 with the idea of helping people expand the limits of their knowledge. Audima was born of the belief that technology must have a positive impact on society

The concept first came about when Paula, one of our founders, had a problem. Her problem was staying focused while reading from bright computers or smartphones. That’s why she always preferred to listen, and this way, was able to keep herself informed without the eyestrain. After having this difficulty, she realized not only must there be a lot more people like her out there, but, due to physical disabilities or maybe other reasons, many people simply do not have access to the written information available on the Internet.

Scale of the problem

According to the latest World Health Organisation statistics, over 1.3 billion people have some form of vision impairment, around 826 million of those have near-sight problems and approximately 750 million people are illiterate. This difficulty in seeing or understanding the written word prevents people from accessing information, gaining knowledge and consequently, reaching their full potential.

What’s more, there are over 253 million visually impaired people in the world who can not read at all and would need screen readers to use computers or cell phones. After immersing themselves in this world, the Audima team found that the experience of using these screen readers was poor, since the vast majority of sites are not compatible with the software.

What if everyone who struggles to read could just listen to online content?

Caring technology

Audima came to fruition inspired by this challenge. Audima’s audio tool uses artificial intelligence to turn text from websites into audible content. The audio solution is installed one time by the site, (it’s intuitive and no prior technical knowledge is necessary,) then as if by magic, all articles from every page of the website are converted into audio for users to play.

Audima’s mission is to impact the world using technology in a positive, smart and scalable way. It’s an ambitious dream with one clear goal: that one day, all written content on the internet can also be heard.

An audio movement

And with this, the movement #audioincludes was kickstarted. A global movement towards inclusiveness that encourages sites to make their written material available in audio form. Making people aware of the movement also helps users share audible sites with other people who need or prefer to listen. Just like that, people with visual impairments, the elderly, the semi-literate, functional illiterates or people who would simply rather listen to written content can feel part of the vast universe of information on the internet.

Every day, more and more people are waking up to this paradigm shift. Enthusiasts are becoming evangelists and starting to spread the word.

Want to know how you can help out? Click here and find out how to take part.

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