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Problems in making telecommunications services accessible
journal contributionposted on 23.01.2015, 13:54 by Martin MaguireMartin Maguire
Information technology is continually developing and in the last few years there has been a rapid growth in electronic telecommunications to provide Internet and other network-based services. Interest in using telecommunications to provide services to the public is growing, with a number of pilot services being set up across the country to explore market potential and/or stimulate demand.Administrations across Europe are now using telecommunications technology to provide citizens with information (Hoare, 1998). The British Government, for instance, has issued a directive that 25% of all civil service communications must be on-line by 2002. This is intended to provide savings in paperwork and a streamlined service.An area of possible government assistance is to provide the public with on-line information about welfare benefit entitlement. This may have benefits for all members of society but could be of particular value for retired and older members of the public, many of whom do not always claim their entitlement. It is estimated in the UK, for example, that one million pensioners could be entitled to Income Support that they are not claiming (Benefits Agency, 1998). To provide information to the public, the Benefits Agency produces a website of over 1,000 pages for customers to browse through which can be viewed at http://www.dss.gov.uk/ba. Yet while many people are now connected to the Internet, and the EU average is 25 computers connected per thousand people, (Lennon, 1999) the number of older or retired people using it is still quite small. An indication of this is given by the results of the worldwide 10th Georgia Tech web survey (GVU, 1999). The survey, conducted in 1998, received 5,022 responses of which only 2.7% were from people who were 66 years of age and over.This raises the key question of whether older people will be able to benefit from the promise of the connected future, with information available electronically on tap, or whether they will get left behind. This also represents a lost opportunity for suppliers as, according to Oftel (the UK telephone watchdog organisation) and disability campaign groups, A growing grey market containing millions of potential customers is being ignored in the telecoms boom, Dawe (1998). This paper, therefore, discusses a number of issues relating to making telecommunication services accessible to the population as a whole.