00:00 AM

Survey of People with Disabilities Shows Increase in Text-Based Communications and Data Access Among Wireless Device Users

ATLANTA - (April 29, 2009) - A growing percentage of wireless device users with cognitive, physical and/or sensory disabilities identify text-based communications and data access as important functions in their mobile wireless devices, a survey shows.

At the same time, these users report that voice communications are becoming somewhat less important to them, according to the survey results released in April by the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center for Wireless Technologies (Wireless RERC) – a collaboration between Atlanta-based Shepherd Center and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

“The massive growth of text messaging in the general consumer market in the United States and globally is reflected in the evolving needs and wants identified by our survey respondents,” said John Morris, a Shepherd Center researcher involved with the ongoing Survey of User Needs of more than 1,500 people with disabilities. The survey is funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR).

Results from the 2008 survey showed a 14 percent increase – from 38 to 52– in the percentage of people with disabilities who identified text messaging as an important wireless function compared to respondents in 2007. The percentage who regarded mobile email access as important increased by nine points – from 35 to 44 percent; for instant messaging, the percentage rose from 17 to 24 percent; and for Internet access, the percentage climbed from 33 to 43 percent.

Meanwhile, the number of people with disabilities who identified mobile voice communications as important fell 6 percent from 88 to 82 percent. These results excluded responses from survey respondents with hearing limitations because they are already more likely to use text-based communications, researchers noted.

A related trend that emerged from the latest survey results is an increase by about 10 percent in respondents for whom wireless devices are important for everyday tasks such as general communication, directions and appointment reminders. This trend contrasts with a nearly 7 percent drop in the percentage of respondents for whom wireless devices are important as a security tool. However, the use of wireless technologies for security remains important to nearly 70 percent of survey respondents, indicating that people with disabilities still overwhelmingly rely on their wireless devices as a way to mitigate the perceived risks of going out in public or just being alone, Morris explained.

“We’ll pay close attention to these trends to see if people with disabilities continue to shift from occasional wireless use oriented toward safety and security to more frequent use for common tasks requiring time-sensitive information,” said survey project director Jim Mueller.

Other findings from the 2008 survey are:

  • Wireless device use among survey respondents remained steady around 85 percent, which mirrors use among the general population in the United States.
  • Among those who own or have access to a wireless device, satisfaction with both wireless devices and service providers increased from 2007 to 2008 – from 67 to 74 percent for devices and from 77 to 80 percent for service providers.
  • The percentage of respondents who said they would change service providers to get the features and functions they identified as important fell slightly from 2007 to 2008 from 71 to 66 percent. “This is still a solid majority, but the decline is noteworthy,” Morris said. “It could possibly reflect the wider availability of features, functions and services from a range of providers.”
  • There was little change in the preferences for wireless device features from 2007 to 2008. The most frequently identified features remained the same, and in essentially the same order of popularity – long battery life, durability and toughness, low cost, light weight and simple operation.
  • A considerable number of respondents reported on the need for greater simplicity in use of wireless devices. Others mentioned the need for specific accessibility features like speech input and output, hearing aid compatibility, and larger buttons and fonts.
  • Many respondents emphasized the increased opportunities for social interaction provided by wireless communications. One reported, “It includes me in the world community.”

The survey sample includes all general types of disabilities: blind, low vision, deaf, hard of hearing, difficulty thinking, difficulty speaking, difficulty using hands, and difficulty walking, standing or climbing stairs. About 40 percent reported difficulty hearing (deaf or hard of hearing) or difficulty walking. Substantial percentages reported difficulty using their hands (22 percent), thinking (17 percent) and speaking (12 percent).

Many respondents reported difficulty in more than one of these functional areas. For example, about one-third of the respondents with some type of physical or cognitive limitation reported having difficulty seeing (blindness or low vision).

The Wireless RERC, which conducts the Survey of User Needs, received its second, multi-year grant from NIDRR in 2006. The RERC promotes equitable access to wireless technologies and encourages adoption of universal design – design that benefits users of all ages and abilities – in future generations of wireless devices and applications.

The Wireless RERC continues to invite participation in its Survey of User Needs, which is available online at The survey is also available by phone and in print. For more information, call 800-582-6360, send email to or send correspondence via regular mail to: Wireless RERC Research Coordinator, Crawford Research Institute, Shepherd Center, 2020 Peachtree Road NW, Atlanta, GA 30309.

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.