Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Digital Divide and Disabilities

Cliftons Computer Lab
Photo from flickr user rex libris.
One of the many eye-opening experiences of working at a public library is seeing the number of people who do not have access to technology in their homes. Yes, there are your typical students and people whose internet access may be down at home or whose printer isn't working, but then there are people who come in who need to use computers daily but do not have the technology at home. They may need to find a job, conduct business, pay bills, or file for unemployment and have found themselves on one side of the digital divide. As more companies and government offices move to doing things entirely online, the digital divide becomes more pronounced and more people experience it.

The U.S. Department of Commerce released a report this week called "Exploring the Digital Nation: Computer and Internet Use at Home" (link is a PDF). According to the report, 72% of people without disabilities had broadband access to the internet at home, compared to 43% of those with disabilities. This is according to information from the Census Bureau. According to Disability Scoop,

Socioeconomic factors appear to be a major reason behind the lack of Internet access among those with disabilities, the report found. When researchers controlled for income, education, age and other demographic and geographic variables, the disparity in access between those with and without disabilities dropped to only about 6 percent.

Of course, in this economy, I think the digital divide is becoming even more of a concern. People may not have the ability to buy a computer and rely on places like libraries, which in turn are feeling the budget crunch and may not be able to provide those services or provide them at hours that people can use them. At the same time, jobs are increasingly require more computer skills, and to even fill out an application requires computer knowledge (and sometimes accessibility options companies don't always provide.)

What do you think?


  1. unemployment hit both disabled and non-disabled people hard, and the divide indicates that the disabled population will take much longer to recover as the online job application process increases.
    i work in hiring, and i'm seeing this more and more often. There used to be a phone number that applicants could call and find out what jobs were available, but now i can only direct them to our website.
    i've walked many people through applying for positions and they often are not familiar with computer terms such as link, double v. single click, sidebar, etc. it makes it difficult for them, especially if they are working in a library where they often cannot use their phone while they look at the site.

  2. Thank you for your note, Anonymous! It's interesting to hear from someone in hiring. Our library does allow people to use their phones at the computers, but I know a lot of libraries don't.

  3. Many of the webpages and programs are becoming too difficult to navigate or use. They used to be a lot simpler. I think the younger generation that has grown up with this technology forget that many baby boomers don't have the experience or familiarity as they do. It takes us a while to learn how it works...then they go and change it and we have to learn all over again. It's very frustrating.

    There also used to be organizations that would supply computers for the disabled at no cost. That was how I came to have my first computer all those years ago.

    An organization found out I had been donating my time helping a local teacher with her student's project. They not only gave me a computer, they came to my home and wired it up and showed me how use everything from my home. It was wonderful. I don't hear of these kinds of organizations anymore, at least, not out here in the East.

    The other issue, the cost of internet access is not entirely cheap, especially when they tack on start up fee or installation.

    Those were just a few of my thoughts as I read this. Excellent post, Megan.

  4. Xpressive Handz - thank you! I had no idea there used to be organizations like that. Lots to think about!

  5. I took my old but still in good shape computer and donated it to the Center for Independent Living where I volunteered at the time and they were able to hook up another person with a disability who never had his own system. Cil's will often take old tech and retrofit it for people in need. Its a great way to get rid of stuff you don't use and help someone else have the access they need.

  6. That's awesome, lillytigre! Great idea!


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