Digital Inequity: Understanding the Divide as it Relates to Culture and Disability

Digital Inequity: Understanding the Divide as it Relates to Culture and Disability

Monica R. Brown (New Mexico State University, USA) and Michael Fitzpatrick (New Mexico State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-817-3.ch026
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Abstract

A major challenge in education is to ensure that ALL students are prepared for the technological advances of the 21st century and beyond. This means that ALL students must have access and use of information/educational technologies (I/ET), including assistive technologies for students with disabilities, in their schools. Unfortunately, there is evidence that indicates that I/ET is not equitably distributed in schools and across all types of students (i.e., students with disabilities and students from culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) backgrounds) (Brown, 2004; Brown, Higgins, & Hartley, 2001; Fitzpatrick & Brown, 2008). This chapter will: (a) discuss what access and use looks like for certain at-risk populations (i.e., students with disabilities and CLD students), (b) discuss some of the factors that account for the inequitable access and use of I/ET for those groups, and (c) offer solutions for increasing I/ET access and use for students with disabilities and CLD students.
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Background

Prior to delving into this issue, it is important to make a distinction between I/ET and assistive technology (AT) as it is used in this chapter. The literature is replete with definitions of I/ET and AT. Typically, AT was considered only for students with developmental disabilities because it was thought that these devices (e.g.., communication wallets, electronic communication devices, wheelchairs, prone standers, adapted eating utensils, large print or books on tape, Braille watches, closed-circuit television units, hearing aids, etc.) were necessary for their “compensatory” function and helpful in compensating for the students’ deficits that are barriers to their achievement. There is a clear relationship between the function lost or impaired and the function AT replaces or enhances (Blackhurst, 2005). Sadly, Warger (2005) noted that there is still misunderstanding regarding the “compensatory” nature of AT despite the widespread availability of resources containing descriptions of devices and services available to educators.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Culturally and Linguistically Diverse: A non-pejorative term referring to individuals who come from racial and ethnic groups other than the European American culture (e.g., African American, Asian American, Latino/a, Native American) and/or who may speak languages other than English as their first language.

Instructional/Educational Technology: Application of scientific knowledge about human learning to the practical tasks of teaching and learning (Newby, Stepich, Lehman, & Russell, 2000).

Equity: Ensuring equitable access despite factors such as income, race/ethnicity, gender, age, disability status, and residence in urban and rural areas.

Digital Divide: Digital divide is based on the apparent gap between individuals who can effectively access digital and information technology versus individuals who have limited or no access at all.

Assistive Technology (AT): Any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disabilities (20 U.S.C. § 1401(1), 1997, 2004).

Digital Equity: Ensuring equitable access to instructional and educational technology despite factors such as income, race/ethnicity, gender, age, disability status, and residence in urban and rural areas.

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