oa African Journal of Disability - Use of consumer wireless devices by South Africans with severe communication disability : original research

Volume 5 Number 1
  • ISSN : 2223-9170
  • E-ISSN: 2226-7220



Advancements in wireless technology (e.g. cell phones and tablets) have opened new communication opportunities and environments for individuals with severe communication disabilities. The advancement of these technologies poses challenges to ensuring that these individuals enjoy equal access to this increasingly essential technology. However, a paucity of research exists.

To describe the nature and frequency with which South African adults with severe communication disabilities have access to and use wireless devices, as well as the types of activities for which wireless devices are used.
Survey research was conducted with 30 individuals who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) technology using the Survey of User Needs Questionnaire developed in the United States, and localized to the South African context.
All participants, despite their limited education, unemployment and low economic status, owned and/or used mainstream wireless devices. Slightly more than half of the participants (53.3%) needed adaptations to their wireless devices. Advantages of using wireless devices were highlighted, including connecting with others (through using text messaging, social networking, making plans with others, sharing photos and videos with friends), for leisure activities (e.g. listening to music, watching videos, playing games), and for safety purposes (e.g. to navigate when lost, using the device when in trouble and needing immediate assistance).
These wireless devices offer substantial benefits and opportunities to individuals with disabilities who rely on AAC in terms of independence, social participation, education and safety/security. However, they still do not enjoy equal opportunity to access and use wireless devices relative to the non-disabled population.

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