Exploring how manufacturers, suppliers and retailers address the needs of older and disabled people: what are the barriers and drivers?

08 Mehefin 2009

Foreword

This report presents the findings of research Ofcom’s Advisory Committee on Older and Disabled People (ACOD) commissioned from i2 media research. It was funded by Ofcom, which has a duty to encourage the availability of easily usable apparatus under Section 10 of the Communications Act 2003.

We had a clear purpose in mind: to understand how manufacturers, suppliers and retailers of domestic communications equipment, products and services address the requirements of older and disabled people. The research investigates the efforts that companies make to incorporate universal design and design for usability in their activities.

Findings are based on confidential in-depth interviews with senior figures from the consumer electronics and media products and services supply chain. Sectors sampled included broadcasting, telecommunications and online products and services.

It was important to find out what the barriers are, including limited user research and the commercial considerations of building business cases. More than this, we wanted to know what could be done to address barriers. The people interviewed came up with a range of positive suggestions. These included the need for senior level company leadership to champion the requirements of older and disabled people and use of the power of procurement to encourage design for usability.

But going beyond the views expressed, the research suggests that, unless further encouragement is put in place, the current economic downturn and competing commercial pressures are likely to limit the extent to which industry is able to better address the needs of older and disabled people.

Such encouragement is likely to require a carefully considered, multi-faceted approach. Given the global nature of many parts of the communications industries, and the various standards regimes for different sectors, any intervention needs to be sensitive to this context.

An initial action, and one recommended by ACOD, could be a (voluntary or mandatory) requirement for companies to report the efforts they make towards monitoring and improving their products’ and services’ accessibility and usability on a regular basis (e.g. annually) to a high-profile independent body with an interest in, or commitment to, improving the situation.

This body could then publish annual progress updates on what companies serving UK consumers are doing to improve access to and usability of domestic electronic communications equipment, products and services. Such an activity would reward companies which had made efforts towards improving the accessibility and usability of their products and services, by showcasing their activities positively, and would shame by omission those companies which had made no such efforts.

I believe that this research will be useful to Ofcom and to industry. That if we can learn from it we can help to deliver real results for everybody.

Good design for older and disabled people is good design for all.

Mike Whitlam

Chairman
Ofcom Advisory Committee on Older and Disabled People

Full report

Research report: Exploring how manufacturers, suppliers and retailers address the needs of older and disabled people: what are the barriers and drivers? (PDF, 237.5 KB)