Internet Usage by Native Americans with Disabilities Living on American Indian Reservations in the Great Plains

Article excerpt


It has been assumed that, due to limited Internet access, electronic media is an ineffective means for information dissemination to Native Americans with disabilities. In this investigation, we surveyed a sample of 467 households of Native Americans with disabilities living on Great Plains reservations regarding access to electronic resources. Of these, we asked 194 respondents questions on frequency of use of electronic and traditional media. Another 97 respondents reported on usage of the same media specifically for information related to Individualized Education Program/Individualized Family Service Plan (IEP/IFSP) meetings. A majority of the 467 households had a computer, and nearly half had Internet access. However, very few respondents used the Internet for information related to their child's IEP/IFSP. Use of traditional mass media was also very low. The most common resource consulted to obtain information on mass media was neither the Internet nor mass media but rather the advice of family and friends. Given this primacy of social networks, an increase in electronic information targeted toward Native Americans with disabilities is recommended, with an emphasis on Web 2.0 technologies.

Keywords: Internet, Native American, technology, disabilities

The Internet is a potential treasure trove of benefits for individuals with disabilities, particularly those in remote communities. Advantages to Internet access include widespread access to information, information tailoring and anonymity (Korp, 2006). Internet access can empower individuals with disabilities through provision of information regarding their diagnosis, prognosis, health promotion, health care, and best practices for treatment and services. According to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA, 2004), the Internet is an important source of information on health services, health practices, and government services with 40% of dial-up users and 48% of broadband users searching the Internet for this type of information. Electronic media can be particularly effective for disseminating health and medical information, as the dynamic nature of this media allows for scientific research to be disseminated months or years ahead of static textbooks (Burdette, 2007). For remote communities, such as most reservations, the Internet offers the additional advantage of bridging distance, making full text retrieval available from sources thousands of miles away.

There is a widespread assumption that Native Americans have limited access to electronic media (NTIA, 1999). In 1999, the NTIA reported that only 26.8% of rural Native Americans had access to computers and that their access to the Internet (18.9%) was far behind the national average of 26.2%. These data, however, are 11 years old, and Internet usage has been changing rapidly. From 1999 to 2004, Internet use among American households increased from just over a quarter of the population to over one half (54.6%). In a sample of over 2,200 American adults in 2007 (the same year in which we collected the data from the present study), 77% reported both owning a home computer and accessing the Internet (Kennedy, Smith, Wells, & Wellman, 2008).

The current assumption of low Internet use on the reservations generally is based on an extrapolation from large-scale databases, such as the NTIA surveys. For example, a survey of 57,000 households found, relative to the national average, a substantially lower rate of Internet use among persons with disabilities, lowincome respondents, and disadvantaged minority groups (i.e., African-Americans and Hispanics; NTIA, 2004). Internet access was only slighdy lower in rural households; however, broadband access was significantly lower, an important indicator as more broadband consumers (66%) were daily users of the Internet than those with dial-up access (51%). Data on Native Americans were not provided. Given that all of these factors, low income, rural residence, and disability are disproportionately higher in the Native American population, it has been assumed that the Internet would be an ineffective means of providing information to Native Americans. …