Smartphones, Disability and the Australian Experience of the COVID-19 Pandemic for People who are Blind and with Low Vision

Katie Ellis, Mike Kent, Kathryn Locke, Leanne McRae, Duc Dau, Gwyneth Peaty


This paper offers insight into and analysis of the disparate and diverse experiences of Australians with disability, at the intersections of technology and geography during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Drawing on interviews with the blind and low vision community we identify a significant cross-generational uptake of smartphones. Participants demonstrate a reflexive and creative use of these devices when faced with reduced accessibility, and the significance of geography – not simply the distinctions between countries, but between urban and regional residents.

These interviews are contextualised within a broader discussion of how Australians with disability responded to the pandemic via analysis of blogs, articles and social media. We focus on the voices and perspectives of disabled people, and that community's emphasis on individuality and intradisability diversity.

Lastly, we present an overview of the discussions being held around the role of contact tracing and apps, privacy, validity and vulnerability. This discourse is important for ensuring support for the disability community pre and post global health emergencies, but also a valuable exemplar for understanding the relationship between digital inclusion and social equality more broadly.


COVID-19; Australia; smartphones; digital access; Blind; low vision; contact tracing apps

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Copyright (c) 2021 Katie Ellis, Mike Kent, Kathryn Locke, Leanne McRae, Duc Dau, Gwyneth Peaty

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ISSN: 2159-8371 (Online); 1041-5718 (Print)