Home Internet Adoption by Californians with Disabilities: An Interview with Thomas Foley of the World Institute on Disability

Home Internet Adoption by Californians with Disabilities: An Interview with Thomas Foley of the World Institute on Disability

Over the past three decades, the lives of people with disabilities have improved significantly because of access to high-speed Internet.  The World Institute on Disability (WID) has been a witness to and participant in this phenomenon.  Founded in 1983 by disability community leaders, WID’s mission is to eliminate barriers to full social integration and increase employment, economic security, and health care for persons with disabilities in communities and nations worldwide.

Since 2013, WID has collaborated with the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF)—a nonprofit directed by the California Legislature to close the Digital Divide—to better understand the degree to which Californians with disabilities are served in their access to the Internet.  Findings from the 2014 survey have informed government, nonprofit, and corporate leaders about the importance of digital access for the disability community.

Results from the 2015 survey, “Home Internet Adoption by Californians with Disabilities,” show that 66% of Californians with disabilities have access to high-speed Internet, up from 4% in 2014—yet trailing the larger population by 13 percentage points.  Other findings from the 100-person survey include:  $10 a month is what non-Internet subscribers say they can afford (versus $50 to $70 a month); over half of respondents say their disability makes it difficult to use a device to go online; and about a third of respondents use an assistive device or software to access the Internet, increasing the cost to get online at home.

CETF sat down with Thomas Foley, WID’s deputy director to learn more about the study.

How do findings from the 2015 WID-CETF survey differ from the previous one, and what do they tell us about the challenges to broadband access and adoption for Californians with disabilities?

FOLEY:  We’ve seen a slight overall uptick in in adoption for people with disabilities between 2014 and 2015—from 62% to 66%. We believe this is due to a concentrated effort to focus adoption outreach directly to the disability community through trusted partners, such as the California Foundation for Independent Living.  We will be very interested to see if adoption rates continue to increase when we survey participants again for the 2016 survey.

Is there enough focus on the affordability of high-speed Internet for Californians with disabilities?  And, if not, what legislative or other measures could be taken to increase affordability?

FOLEY:  We know that folks with disabilities are tremendously overrepresented in the lower income demographics, not only in California, but nationwide, so cost is always a concern.  That said, most survey recipients report that about $10 per month is what they would be willing to pay for a broadband connection and the California Foundation for Independent Living has been doing a great job connecting consumers to a product at this price point.  Policy options that could increase the number of organizations offering all people with disabilities a $10 per month service would go a long way to helping to narrow the Digital Divide.

Tell us about the development of assistive devices—are the ones on the market solving the problems people with disabilities face getting online?  

FOLEY:  There is a multitude of products that help folks with disabilities gain access to the Internet.  From laptops with voice output, to mobile devices with built-in accessibility features, to switch-enabled browsing options—an increasing number of products are competently addressing access issues for people with disabilities.  The price of many of these options, however, remains outside what most people with disabilities can afford.  In addition, the Internet itself has to be consciously designed to enable access.  Design standards, such as W3CAG2.0, provide guidance to help make the Internet accessible to people with disabilities.  But if developers ignore this guidance, accessibility and the promise of the Internet will suffer.

How could the State of California reach its 80 percent adoption goal among Californians with disabilities?

California can increase access for people with disabilities by partnering with local and regional disability organizations connected in their communities. These organizations are trusted partners and help to provide access to all types of services within the community, including Internet access.

To read the full 2015 survey, “Home Internet Adoption by Californians with Disabilities, click here.

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