Telehealth may worsen digital divide for people with disabilities

A recent academic paper entitled ‘Ensuring Full Participation of People with Disabilities in an Era of Telehealth contends that design, implementation, and policy considerations must be taken into account when developing virtual care technology. While for some people with disabilities access to telehealth services can ameliorate healthcare, co-ordinating transportation, arranging caregiver assistance, and navigating public spaces in pursuit of in-person care can be challenging for many, let alone the potential accessibility challenges at clinics. The paper identified several design considerations for health IT, including: Assistive-technology compatibility and intuitive user interfaces; multiple modes of communication; standards to enable sign language or closed captioning on the same screen as the service being provided; and features facilitating multiple and different types of users. According to the paper, ‘although people with disabilities are a health disparity population often overlooked in the assessment of the differential impact of health information technology, consideration of and responsiveness to their unique constellation of needs is imperative in this new era of widespread telehealth. Failure to explicitly account for people with disability in the design, implementation, and policy dimensions of telehealth will lead to further marginalisation and poor health outcomes for the more than 61 million Americans with disabilities.’