BACKGROUND : 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.
OBJECTIVES : 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.
METHOD : 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.
RESULTS : 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
CONCLUSION : 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.