Teleworking and the "Disability Divide"

Teleworking and the "Disability Divide"

John C. Bricout, Paul M.A. Baker, Andrew C. Ward, Nathan W. Moon
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-699-0.ch009
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Much of the discourse on the digital divide focuses on issues of information disparity and accessibility, frequently in socioeconomic terms. This perspective overlooks an important aspect of the digital divide, the lack of access and missed opportunities faced by persons with disabilities, referred to here as the “disability divide.” Barriers to access and knowledgeable use of information and communication technology (ICT) represent more than simple exclusion from information to encompass social segregation and devaluation. At its most insidious, barriers to ICTs limit full community engagement in employment activities. This chapter examines the ramification of the impact of digital divide on the nature of employment and participation in the workplace, using ICT to conduct telework, and explores challenges to social policy with respect to ‘reasonable’ accommodations. In the absence of practices, structures, and policies targeting the distributive work environment, telework is much less likely to close the digital divide for persons with a disability. This suggests the need to explore and develop potential policy options to close the disability divide.
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The digital divide is a broad concept whose basic assumptions are contested (Barzilai-Nahon, 2006; Hall, 2003; James, 2005; James, 2008; Vehovar, Sicherl, Husing, & Dolnicar, 2006). The concept finds its origins in media and government reports dating back to the mid-1990s, entering scholarly discourse a few years later, and quickly building momentum since then, with 440 papers in the ISI Web of Science at the beginning of 2006 (Vehovar et al., 2006), and 975 publications identified (by topic) in the ISI Web of Knowledge in the latter part of 2008 (ISI, 2008). At its most basic level, the digital divide has been defined in terms of the gap in information and communication technology (ICT) use. Although ICTs are inclusive of a broad range of technologies, including computers, videoconferencing, intranets, and mobile telephones, ICTs are most commonly used synonymously with the Internet, which provides the infrastructure for most ICT devices and applications (Bayo-Moriones & Lera-Lopez, 2007; Hull, 2003; Triggs & John, 2004). One contested assumption is the strength and direction of the relationship between the digital divide, as a divide between ICT ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots,’ in addition to broader, off-line social disparities (Mehra, Merkel, & Bishop, 2004; Vehovar et al., 2006). The confounding of social inequality and access to ICTs is not disputed; however, there are unresolved questions about the context of the digital divide in poverty, rural areas, and developing countries. Also problematic is framing the digital divide simply as an aggregated distribution problem requiring scaled up infrastructure (Barzilai-Nahon, 2006; Hull, 2003; James, 2005; James, 2008; Vehovar et al., 2006). Social exclusion is a common denominator for marginalized individuals and populations, for which barriers to both access and informed use of ICT characterize their experience of the digital divide (Mehra et al., 2004; Vehovar et al., 2006). Indeed, access and use of ICT is a central concern for makers of public policy (DiMaggio & Hargittai, 2001). For example, there is well documented research demonstrating the existence of a “digital divide” in our society in terms of access to, availability of, and use of ICTs (Hoffman, Novak, & Schlosser, 2000; Light, 2001; Hargittai, 2002, 2003; Warschauer, 2003). Furthermore, the divide tends to exist along racial and socioeconomic lines, the same demographic characteristics that have stratified society in general (U.S. NTIA, 2000; U.S. NTIA 2002; Callison, 2004; DiMaggio & Hargittai, 2001; Robinson, DiMaggio, & Hargittai, 2003).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Social Learning: learning that takes place in a collective fashion, or in a social context.

Social Networks: structured social relations that carry informational and affective content.

Telework: Activities, tasks and participation, either separately or in the aggregate conducted at a distance through the medium of ICTs and group practices.

Workplace participation: engagement and participation on work teams, and in the broader workplace community, either in situ, virtually or a combination of both.

ICT: Information and communications technology, such as informatics, computers, web-based collaborative platforms, software applications.

Social Capital: features of social organization such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit (Putnam).

Participatory telework: Arrangements that build in customized or ‘fitted’ resources and supports to increase teleworker employability and effectiveness.

Communities of Practice (CoP): Groups that structure and reflect social learning and define the group norms and processes, banded together by a sense of joint enterprise, mutuality and a shared repertoire of communal resources. They may be either online or face-to-face.

Disability divide: digital divide as related to persons with disabilities, including lack connectivity, access, or exclusion from information technologies.

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