Addressing the Smartphone Adaptive Technology Gap in Korea
Simply close your eyes and try to use your smartphone, and you will note the need for adaptive technology. In the Republic of Korea (ROK), an IT powerhouse with the highest Internet access ratio and smartphone penetration rate in the world, in respect to digital device utilization there remains a wide gap between people with disability and those without. For example, in the ROK, 61.5% of the general population owned smartphones in 2012, while only 23.1% of people with disability owned smartphones. In the US, the gap is much smaller, with 56% of the general population smartphone owners compared to 48.8% of people with disability.
This low penetration rate of smartphones for people with disability in Korea means not only lower mobile internet utilization and access to internet based information, but also lower access to the multi-purpose opportunities that the smartphone provides. In the ROK, this is called the ‘neo-digital divide,’ given that the first digital divide is defined as the information gap between those with access to the World Wide Web and those without. While the first divide is still to be solved, the neo-digital divide or mobile digital divide has also come to the fore. People with disability have the right and capability to navigate the Internet; the challenge is foremost technological, but improved policies and focus are also essential to speed up technological advance. People with disability are the largest minority on the planet. 18.7% of the U.S. population experiences a form of disability.
The World Health Organization reports that more than 19.4% of the world population over the age of 15, or approximately one billion people, live with disability. Further, the majority of disabled people acquire their disability during their lives; in the ROK, 90.5% of the population will be disabled at some point in their lives. It is possible and preferable in the near term to develop technologies and policies that bring people out of the information dead zone regarding the benefits from technology and development. One useful framework to advocate for adaptive technologies is the business case for diversity and inclusion (D&I).
D&I best practices make good business sense. Adaptive technology is just one example of a D&I successful business practice, allowing for increased markets and a more highly educated and connected workforce, as well as more inclusive governance. Like other countries around the world, the ROK is rapidly becoming more diverse over a wide range of diversity factors, not just disability. For example, the ROK has the world's second-lowest birth rate and a gender imbalance, leading to a large number of exogenous marriages. Hence the ROK’s Agricultural Ministry projects that 49 percent of children in rural households will be multicultural by the year 2020.
Like other future leaders around the globe, South Korea’s future leaders must become skilled in D&I best practices in order to effectively lead the ROK forward in the 21st century. The business case for diversity emphasizes the benefits of valuing the unique talents, innovations and perspectives that diverse members bring to teams. New generations have a key role to play in advancing D&I best practices. This generation is more likely to have grown up in diverse cohorts and to see diversity as an asset, leading countries forward toward more inclusive practices in all walks of life. Returning to smartphones, in Korea, some young engineers are beginning to develop adaptive technology for Korean markets.
By referencing the D&I framework, such young people can help to raise awareness across generations and spur positive change in order to make the unique advances of our era available not only to the majority, but to all. Kyu Kim is a South Korean engineering student with a passion for developing assistive technologies. Kyu joined GMF’s intern program through an agreement with the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, an independent think tank providing innovative policy solutions and spearheading public discourse on the core issues that Korea, East Asia and the global community face. Lora Berg is a senior fellow with GMF’s Office of Transatlantic Leadership Initiatives, where she is building the “Leadership, Diversity and Inclusion” program.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.