Individuals with Disabilities and Internet Use

Individuals with Disabilities and Internet Use

Mary Gozza-Cohen (University at Albany, State University of New York, USA) and Deborah May (University at Albany, State University of New York, USA)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0315-8.ch021
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This entry examines the use of the internet by individuals with disabilities. Before people with disabilities can use the Internet for socializing, communicating, gathering information, learning, or working, they must first be able to access the Internet. This may require additional assistance by either people or modified hardware and software. Some authors have expressed concern that there is a digital divide, with many people with disabilities not accessing the Internet. The differing needs of people with disabilities, and how their needs may be met with technology and adaptations are explored. Examples of various uses of the Internet by people with disabilities are presented. This field does not have a large research base; it is difficult to do controlled large group studies with such diverse populations, so much of the information comes from position papers, demographic reports, case studies, or exploratory research.
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Over the past 50 years, the rights of individuals with disabilities have been made explicit though legislation in the United States, such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (1975), the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (2004), as well as similar legislation in other countries. As people with disabilities are more visible and participatory in society, they are also using the internet, along with various specialized access technologies, to maintain contact with others, to learn, and to work.

Dobransky & Hargittai (2006) noted that people with disabilities can use the internet and computers to escape the isolation and stigma that are sometimes associated with disabilities. Bradley & Poppen (2003) reported that internet access has improved how individuals with disabilities evaluate their communication with others. In addition, Grimaldi & Goette (1999) and Cook, Fitzgibbon, Batteiger, Grey, Caras, Dansky, & Priester (2005) reported that internet use improved the sense of independence and self-determination for individuals with disabilities.

The benefits of accessing the internet through computers are not limited to just the psychological realm (Dobransky & Hargittai, 2006). For example, improved health outcomes and positive impacts on health-related quality of life issues were reported by Magnusson, Hanson, & Borg (2004) and Drainoni, Houlihan, Williams, Vedrani, Esch, Lee-Hood & Weiner (2004). However, in many cases, there must be support by both other people and modified hardware and software before people with disabilities can access and use the internet. This brief review will explore many of the internet accessibility issues and supports available for people with many different disabilities, including those with cognitive, sensory, physical and other types of disabilities. This review is not intended to provide an in-depth analysis of every disability and its impact on internet accessibility and use since individuals with disabilities vary significantly. Add to this the speed at which technology and the internet is changing. However, this review captures some of the available material on how the internet can improve life for people with disabilities.

It seems obvious that the internet holds much potential for improving life circumstances for people with disabilities, although there is not clear evidence that people with disabilities are consistently accessing the internet. Dobransky & Hargittai (2006) raised this issue of a digital divide and Goggin & Newell (2003) examined this notion of a digital disability in their book, Digital Disability: The Social Construction of Disability in New Media.

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