Disabled consumers’ ownership of communications services

Published 25|09|13

Introduction and methodology


Nearly twelve million (11.9 million) people in the UK have a limiting long-term illness, impairment or disability . Under the Communications Act 2003 Ofcom has a specific duty to have regard to the interests of disabled consumers. In order to meet these responsibilities and to respond to stakeholder requests for better information on the experiences of disabled consumers, we worked with the British Population Survey (BPS) to produce this report. It provides Ofcom's most robust analysis yet of disabled consumers' household ownership of, and access to, communications services, across Great Britain.

Ofcom's previous quantitative analysis (published as part of the Consumer Experience report) was caveated due to small sample sizes. While combining the results from people with different types of impairment increases the sample sizes, this approach masks any differences between disability groups, and as such, more in-depth research was desirable.

By working with the BPS we have achieved a robust sample of disabled consumers (4,095 people aged 15 or over). This has meant that, for the first time, we are able to publish quantitative analysis comparing household ownership and use of communications services among people with different types of impairment or disability. The top-line findings were published in Ofcom's Consumer Experience of 2012 report' .

This report provides a detailed analysis among people with hearing, visual, mobility and multiple impairments, making comparisons by type of disability and by demographic group. It draws out differences between disability groups and makes comparisons with non-disabled consumers.

Previously, this type of analysis has been limited by the fact that observed differences between groups of disabled consumers can be explained by the substantial demographic differences between the groups. The analysis in this report is unique in that it compares different age and social groups on a like-for-like basis. The findings suggest that demographic differences offer only a partial explanation for the differing levels of communications service take-up. Other factors, perhaps related to the disability itself, appear to be affecting ownership and use of key communications services, or compounding the effects of age and socio-economic group among people with disabilities.

The findings from this report will help inform all areas of Ofcom's work relating to the needs of disabled consumers. It complements our existing research which looks more broadly at service affordability and media literacy in the UK population. The results will allow us more accurately to identify and prioritise potential areas of concern for Ofcom and/or other stakeholders.

The scope

This report compares the profiles of people with different types of disability: their households' ownership of, and their use of, communications services, i.e. fixed line, mobile and PC ownership, and levels of internet access.

In summary, the report covers the following areas:

  • Profile of disability groups - an overview of the demographic profiles of disability groups, including age, socio-economic group, employment status and household size.
  • Ownership overview - an overview of the services disabled consumers have access to in their homes, and the frequency with which they access the internet.
  • People with mobility impairments - a detailed analysis of the services and devices people with (only) mobility impairments have access to in the home, and more information on the impact of demographics. Types of mobility impairment are broken down further in this section.
  • People with hearing impairments - a detailed analysis of the services and devices people with (only) hearing impairments have access to in the home, and more information on the impact of demographics.
  • People with visual impairments - a detailed analysis of the services and devices people with (only) visual impairments have access to in the home, and more information on the impact of demographics.
  • People with multiple impairments - a detailed analysis of the services and devices people with multiple impairments have access to in the home, and more information on the impact of demographics. By 'multiple impairments' we mean any combination of mobility, hearing and visual impairment. Types of multiple impairment are broken down in this section.

This report uses unweighted data and examines disabled consumers with each type of disability, as well as people with a combination of disabilities. We make comparisons to the total disabled sample (which includes people with other non-specified disabilities) and the total non-disabled sample. We decided to isolate people with single ('solus') impairments from those with multiple impairments in order to understand the impact of the specific disability type on ownership and use of communications services.

Note: Where the report refers to mobility, hearing or visual impairment, this is always a solus impairment rather than part of a wider condition with other impairments.


The British Population Survey (BPS) is a face-to-face nationally representative survey which interviews approximately 2,000 people aged 15+ across Great Britain each week.

Ofcom commissioned a question on the BPS survey between July and September 2012, asking respondents whether they considered themselves to have a disability or long-term illness that affected their day-to-day lives and, if so, what type of disability they had: mobility impairment (wheelchair user, unable to walk far or limited reach); visual disability; hearing disability; or other.

The survey includes questions on access to the following communications services and devices: fixed-line and mobile telephony (including smartphone); internet (in-home and anywhere, including mobile access); DAB radio; pay TV (cable or satellite); and Freeview or Freesat. In addition, the following supplementary questions were asked of those with internet access: length of time with internet access; frequency of internet use; and types of uses. A full list of questions is contained in Annex 1.


A total of 4,095 disabled people (self-defined) was achieved, and a total sample of 17,412 non-disabled people. The total proportion of disabled people equates to19% of the sample of GB adults aged 15 and over. Thirteen per cent of the total sample aged under 65 classified themselves as disabled compared with 40% of those aged 65 and over and 53% of those aged 75 and over.

Of those who self-reported a disability, 28% of the sample had mobility impairment only; 12% had a hearing impairment only, 9% had a visual impairment only and 25% had some other disability as their only disabling condition. The sample included people who had multiple impairments; 16% had a combination of mobility, visual and/or hearing disabilities and 26% of the sample had multiple impairments including 'other impairments'. Please note that this report focuses on the discrete groups of people with solus mobility, hearing or visual impairments, and on people with a combination of these impairments.

The overall incidence figures show a similar pattern to the Family Resources Survey 2011/12 which found that nearly 12 million people self-reported as being disabled (c. 19% of the population) and that the most commonly reported impairments are those that affect mobility, lifting or carrying.

Statistical reliability

For reporting purposes, sub-group differences are noted in the report only when they are significantly different from the total sample or subgroups within the sample. We have reported differences at the 95% confidence interval; this means that if you asked 100 people in the population, 95 of them would give a similar response to the finding reported.

Low sample sizes (i.e. between 50 and 100 respondents) were achieved for some demographic groups for some metrics. Where this is the case, we have highlighted that the data should be treated as indicative only, as they are subject to high margins of error.

Insufficient sample sizes (i.e. fewer than 50 respondents) have not been reported.


When reading this report it is important to be aware of the limitations of the data.

The survey on which this report is based primarily asks questions about services and devices present in the home, and therefore represents ownership within the household. It is not possible, from this dataset, to report use among the disabled population. Differences between single and multiple-person households can provide an indication of use among the disabled population particularly given that 40% of disabled people live alone.

The survey did not contain any questions about the severity of the impairment.

The analysis focuses on people with hearing, vision or mobility impairments only, and people with a combination of any of these impairments. The data cannot provide analysis of other disabilities such as learning disabilities. Disabilities other than those included in the analysis are contained within the total disabled population and are reported only at that level.