Beyond the Digital Divide: Closing the Generation and Disability Gaps?

Beyond the Digital Divide: Closing the Generation and Disability Gaps?

Seongyeon Auh (Chung-Ang University, Korea), Stuart W. Shulman (University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA), Lisa E. Thrane (Wichita State University, USA) and Mack C. Shelley II (Iowa State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-699-0.ch008
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Abstract

An essential, and rapidly-developing, aspect of electronic government is the growing use of online resources for government activities such as e-rulemaking, citizen participation, and the provision of information, referral, and assistance for users with needs for service delivery. Major developments in the use of electronic government resources for services needed by the elder and disability populations are the primary focus of this chapter. We focus here on the results of a large-scale statewide survey of residents of the state of Iowa, and on the findings from evaluations of aging and disability resource Websites in the United States and in other countries. Current and future trends in service delivery that may help to bridge digital divides for the elder and disability populations are discussed.
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Introduction

E-government is a key concept in scholarly and policymaker dialogues about democratic government. Generational differences play an important role in linking information and communications technologies (ICT) literacy and usage with political outcomes such as partisanship, elections, or public policy decisions (Fox, 2004). Complex contemporary issues regarding full participation by older members of the political community revolve around the rapidly expanding reliance on electronic information and communication technologies. All too often older adults are unfamiliar with opportunities commenting on pending government rules and regulations and the corresponding use of online “e-rulemaking” by public agencies (e.g., Garson, 2005; Shulman, Thrane, & Shelley, 2005).

Other socio-demographic differences, together with generational effects, define what has become known as the “digital divide” (Castells, 1999; Compaine, 2001; Mossberger, Tolbert, & Stansbury, 2003; Servon, 2002; Warschauer, 2003). Age, race, language, and disabilities are significant predictors of ICT literacy, even when controlling for socioeconomic status (Cooper, 2000; Dennis, 2001; Goslee, 1998; Lenhart et al.; Loges & Jung, 2001; Novak & Hoffman, 1998). Previous research has shown that age and disability are closely related to the digital divide in political participation, access to electronic media, and the use of services available through electronic sources.

E-government—delivering government services through a Website or other ICT application—can provide quicker and better services (Daukantas, 2003; Holmes & Miller, 2003), improved interactions with business and industry (Krueger, 2002), citizen empowerment through access to information and participation (Takao, 2004; Watkins, 2004), and more efficient government management (Cohen & Eimicke, 2001). However, e-government provides accurate and reliable information to only those with Internet access.

The “gray gap” in service delivery is an important dimension of the digital divide. The elderly are largely unaware of existing services, experience difficulties in expressing their needs and in negotiating the human services system, and may go without needed help. In particular, determining how best to provide and fund care for vulnerable elderly with functional deficits in daily activities who need assistance in home management such as household chores is a major national-level policy need. As a result, a significant portion of the elderly are counted among society’s information disadvantaged groups.

Key Terms in this Chapter

E-Government: delivering government services through a Website or information and communications technologies (ICT)—can provide quicker and better services (Daukantas, 2003; Holmes & Miller, 2003), improved interactions with business and industry (Krueger, 2002), citizen empowerment through access to information and participation (Takao, 2004; Watkins, 2004), or more efficient government management (Cohen & Eimicke, 2001).

Gray gap: the tendency for older demographic groups to lag behind younger cohorts in information and communications technology literacy.

Ease of Use: the ability to find desired information, helpfulness of the information provided, speed of loading, navigability, Website design, font size, trustworthiness of the information provided, finding needed services, convenience for finding services, whether the observer would recommend the Website to a friend or relative, and comfort using the Internet to get information

Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC): a policy initiative by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to provide information and referral assistance for adults over age 60 and persons with disability age 19-60, implemented in some states as a primarily online system.

Interaction: the availability and levels of customized option and feedback components, including a discussion board (or Bulletin Board Service), log-on capacity, the ability to save visit information, search history, and integration of customized functions with the government’s administrative process, such as by providing easy access to e-application forms for any agency.

Cronbach’s alpha: provides a measure of the reliability of a scale formed by a linear combination of separate items, which in standardized form is a function of the average correlation of the measures underlying the scale.

Accountability: making the best quality resources and services available by being responsive to the needs of target populations (responsiveness), providing satisfactory services (satisfaction), and building trust among users (trustworthiness).

Content and information: the core element of e-government services, spanning seven major life domains: health, family, legal, finances, community support, environment (Housing/Assistive Technology), and life’s transition and changes.

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