The Disability Divide in Internet Access and Use

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Citation: Dobransky, K. & Hargittai, E. (2006). The Disability Divide in Internet Access and Use. Information, Communication and Society. 9(3), 313-334.

Abstract

The increasing spread of the Internet holds much potential for enhancing opportunities for people with disabilities. However, scarce evidence exists to suggest that people with disabilities are, in fact, participating in these new developments. Will the spread of information technologies (IT) increase equality by offering opportunities for people with disabilities Or will a growing reliance on IT lead to more inequality by leaving behind certain portions of the population including people with disabilities In this paper, we draw on nationally representative data about Americans’ Internet uses to (1) identify the extent to which people with disabilities are embracing use of the Internet; (2) how their use of the Internet compares to the Internet uses of the rest of the population; (3) how having a disability relates to and interacts with other social statuses (e.g. socio-economic status, age, gender) with regard to Internet use; and (4) what explains these trends. We draw on representative data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census of the United States to answer these questions. We find that people with disabilities are less likely to live in households with computers, are less likely to use computers and are less likely to be online. However, once we control for socio-economic background, we find that people with hearing disabilities and those who have limited walking ability are not less likely to be Internet users. Our research enables a deeper understanding of both the use of the Internet by people with disabilities and the spread of new IT more generally.

Outline

  • Introduction
  • The Benefits and Barriers of Internet Use by People with Disabilities
    • Benefits
    • Barriers
  • Existing Empirical Investigations
  • Research Questions
  • Data and Methodology
  • Internet Access and Use at Home
  • Explaining Differences in Internet Use
  • Types of Internet Uses
  • Discussion and Conclusion

Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Jennifer Humensky for help with data management. Jeremy Freese and Peter Miller provided helpful suggestions. Hargittai acknowledges the support of the Northwestern University Communication Studies Department Research Fund.

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