The more integrated media becomes to our everyday lives, the greater the adversity faced by individuals who cannot access it. There is a significant gap in computer ownership and Internet use among individuals with disabilities despite the increasing importance of the Internet as a critical source of information and an intermediary of social and cultural participation. According to the Disability Statistics Center, Americans with disabilities are less than half as likely as their non-disabled counterparts to own a computer, and they are about one-quarter as likely to use the Internet.
There are practical and significant reasons for addressing this issue. Information technology and the Internet have an incredible potential to enhance the lives and increase the independence of people with disabilities. Those who have difficulty leaving their homes can shop online, research health questions and participate in online social networks. Using text-to-speech reading applications, visually impaired individuals can now access the same news media, magazine articles, and government publications at the very same time it becomes available to the sighted population. Individual unable to hold a pen or use a keyboard can use the latest speech recognition software to create written documents and perform work-related tasks.
Research shows that there are two separate factors that digitally divide Americans with disabilities from their non-disabled counterparts. Although the accessibility of online content is a serious issue, the greater problem is getting Internet service at home. In the majority of cases, this comes down to economics. People with disabilities are often older, with an average age of 63, compared to 48 among households with no disability, according to a report from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. People with disabilities also tend to have lower levels of household income and less education. Almost half of all households with disabilities (45 percent) had family incomes less than $25,000, compared to a fifth (19 percent) of the population with no disability.
The Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act signed into law by President Obama in October 2010 is geared toward closing the digital divide by making the Internet, TV and DVDs more accessible for people with disabilities. The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act will make it easier for people who are deaf, blind or live with a visual impairment to do what most of us take for granted — from navigating a TV or DVD menu to sending an email on a smart phone.