Woman on her phone at the bus stop

Research and development

Digital inclusion, accessibility, and health

30 March 2023
4 min read

Dominique Barron, Design Researcher at Promising Trouble, explores how affordable access to the internet can help close the health inequality gap.

Dominique Barron
Dominique Barron
Design Researcher at Promising Trouble

For many of us, using the internet is something we do every day – often without giving it a second thought. However, for those unable to access a secure, reliable connection to book a GP appointment or make a benefit claim, it is a barrier to a healthy life.

We’re working with Promising Trouble to explore how affordable internet access could improve people’s health. Dominique Barron, Design Researcher at Promising Trouble explains how. 

There are at least six million people in the UK who are digitally excluded – this means they don’t have access to the internet, or the skills to use it. Disabled people, those that have low levels of literacy or whose first language is not English are much more likely to experience digital exclusion.  

For refugees and asylum seekers, this becomes even more challenging.  They are already more likely to be experiencing insecure life circumstances; surviving on less than £6 per day and living in temporary accommodations with little or no access to WiFi.  

Over the last ten years, there have been some significant improvements to digital access, but since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of digital exclusion has become harder to ignore. 

What digital exclusion means for people’s health

Digital-by-default is becoming much more common across the board and increasingly so for some groups.  For example, research from the Open University found that  88% of care staff who work with neurodiverse people used technology to share important information about staying safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

For people that experience digital exclusion, a digital-by-default approach can have a profound impact on their health and their access to healthcare. Inaccessible design and language options can increase the risks of isolation, whilst being able to access essential digital services can improve people’s mental health. 

Having access to devices, connectivity, and having the skills to use online services are important components of digital inclusion. The usability of digital platforms and access to assistive technologies are just as important. 

When a digital platform is accessible, people are better able to make appointments or seek help in other ways from their doctors, carers, and others within their support networks. 

The Experts by Experience podcast explains the issue perfectly: “in a world where having access to the internet is life … data or access to digital life is a basic life necessity and as such should be treated that way”. 

What we’re doing

Promising Trouble is working with Impact on Urban Health to explore how to improve access to online health services for people living in Lambeth and Southwark by providing a high-quality and as low cost as possible internet connection. 

Together we will: 

  • Explore options to develop local, community-led infrastructure to provide high-quality and low-cost internet access 
  • Research the impact that improved digital access has on people’s health and wellbeing 
  • Influence decision-makers to support reclassifying broadband connection as an essential utility 

Our approach to digital inclusion also centres supporting migrants and Disabled people. We know that there are many factors — often on top of each other — that impact people’s ability to access services online. This is why our approach responds to the overlapping causes and impacts of being digitally excluded.  

We’re exploring the resources, technology and plans we need to put in place to make a real change to people’s lives in Lambeth and Southwark. If you’re interested in getting involved, we’d love to hear from you at hello@promisingtrouble.net.