Published:May 13, 2024

Digital democracy|Digital divide

EU’s internet usage gap in people with limited accessibility

Global Accessibility Awareness Day, this year observed on May 16th, is dedicated to elevating the conversation about digital access and inclusion for over one billion people around the world with diverse activity limitations. With more than 121 million people¹·² in the EU alone, or 27% of all EU residents, Surfshark's research hub investigates the internet usage gap, highlighting the digital divide's impact.

Key insights

  • 17% fewer EU residents with activity limitations use the internet. On average, over 91% of people without activity limitations in the EU use the internet regularly, yet less than 76% of people with various disabilities do so. The gap between people with activity limitations and those without exceeds 15 percentage points, representing 18.9 million people with disabilities who are left behind.
  • The countries with the smallest divide between people with and without disabilities are Ireland, the Netherlands, and Finland, each showing less than a 10% difference in regular internet usage. Interestingly, Ireland is the only country where more people with disabilities report using the internet than those without. The countries with the largest divide between people with and without disabilities are Bulgaria, Greece, and Poland, each with around a 40% difference in regular internet usage. Overall, Eastern European countries tend to have the largest divide among the analyzed groups of people.
  • The correlation value between the Digital Quality of Life Index and the internet usage gap is close to 0.7, which indicates that there is a significant and positive relationship between the two. Despite having an overall higher digital quality of life, countries like Poland, Romania, and Lithuania appear to have room for improvement in ensuring inclusive access for people with activity limitations. On the other side of the spectrum — countries with lower digital quality of life but higher inclusion — are Ireland, Belgium, Malta, and Italy.
  • Inclusiveness is not a trait of less wealthy countries. There is a very strong correlation (0.94) between a country's wealth (GDP per capita) and the internet usage gap among people with and without activity limitations. Such correlations also explain the findings above: the GDP per capita of Poland, Romania, and Lithuania is in the lower half of the EU wellness spectrum, while in Ireland, Belgium, Malta, and Italy, it is in the upper half.

Methodology and sources

Data on population size and internet usage by disability level in the European Union was collected from the Eurostat database. The Internet usage gap was derived by calculating the percentage difference between internet penetration among people with activity limitations and those without. This gap was compared to the country's Digital Quality of Life index, where countries ranking better than half of the EU countries are considered to have an overall good quality of digital life.

For the complete research material behind this study, visit here.

Data was collected from:

Eurostat (2024). Persons regularly using the internet by level of disability (activity limitation) in 2022;Surfshark (2023). Digital quality of life index;International Monetary Fund (2024). GDP per capita, USD 2022 (current price).


¹ Eurostat (2024). Level of disability (activity limitation) by sex, age and income quintile; ² Eurostat (2022). Population and population change statistics.
The team behind this research:About us