Reassessing the disability divide: unequal access as the world is pushed online

Scanlan, Mark
Universal Access in the Information Society

In a time when a global pandemic has forced people to use technology for almost every aspect of their day-to-day lives, it is important to determine if specific disadvantaged groups are appropriately connected to the digital world. This paper attempts to assess whether people with disabilities (PWD) own computers, connect to the Internet, and participate in online activities at the same rates as the general population. Using comprehensive data from the 2017 Current Population Survey we find that PWD still lag behind in computer ownership and Internet access. This result is driven by those with physical, mental, and emotional impairments along with those with multiple disabilities. We also find that the online activities of PWD are similar to the general population for half of the activities studied, while falling behind in areas such as online communication and finances. Our results also indicate relatively high confidentiality concerns related to online activities among specific disabled groups. We do find PWD are moderately more likely than others to use the Internet for health-related activities in general. Overall, our results indicate the disability divide has been partially bridged, but that given the state of the world more can be done to ensure this already disadvantaged group is not left further behind.