Access to the internet is an essential in most people’s lives, whether for information, entertainment or communication. Yet internet access is not evenly spread across Australian states, or across communities and income groups.
The Australian Digital Inclusion Index group has been researching citizens’ access to the internet since 2014, under the headings of (1) access (2) affordability (3) ability. Its detailed findings and supporting data are published on the following website
Digital Inclusion Index findings – in short
Australians living in capital cities generally enjoy better levels of digital inclusion than those in country areas. The gap between them has narrowed over the last five years, and in the last year in NSW, VIC, SA and QLD, but widened in Tasmania and Western Australia.
Digital access is compromised for those living in remote areas and only able to access the internet through a mobile phone. Their access is constrained by limited data allowances, which are more costly per gigabyte than for users with a fixed connection, and subject to slow and unreliable connectivity. Mobile-only use of the internet is also linked with unemployment and low levels of education.
Within urban areas there’s a very substantial digital divide between richer and poorer Australians. Families on low incomes (less than $35 000) bulk large among the more than 2.5 million who in 2019 did not have internet access. The digital divide between Australians in employment, and those not in the work force, has widened over the five years of monitoring.
While the cost of internet data has gone down slightly since 2014, households are now spending more money on internet services, which have increased faster than increases in household income.
Ability to use the internet is a further limiting issue in the digital divide. This is not helped by problems in access and affordability, which limit people’s exposure to and experience of using the internet, and their opportunities to develop digital skills. Older people and those living in remote areas lack support in dealing with internet problems.
Other social groups whose access to the internet and digital skills tend to be limited are:
- those with a disability (identified in the Digital Inclusion Index research as receiving a disability pension)
- Indigenous Australians living in urban or regional areas, with low digital inclusion rates and typically mobile-only connectivity.
- ecently arrived CALD migrants (Cultural and Linguistically Diverse), defined as people born in non-English-speaking countries who speak a language other than English at home. They have lower levels of digital inclusion than the national average, largely because of the challenges of affordability.
Accessibility for those with special needs
There are international guidelines for content- and web-developers seeking to support internet access for people with a physical or mental impairment or disability. These WCAG guidelines also facilitate digital access for elderly people whose faculties are not quite what they used to be. The guidelines outline different thresholds of application, and are continually updated.
These are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, second iteration, which are used as a reference by all Australian government websites, and mandatory at the highest threshold for websites that are specifically for those with a disability.
Other guidelines designed to facilitate access to printed documents have been compiled by the Australian Inclusive Publishing Initiative
- Inclusive Publishing in Australia: An Introductory Guide (2019)
More aspects of accessibility for writers and editors are discussed in the ENGAGING chapter of AMOS.