Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Chapter 2: Information Access for People with Disabilities

Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Chapter 2: Information Access for People with Disabilities

Article excerpt

In December 2003 The Pew Internet & American Life Project completed a study on computer use. The research found that the number of people using the Internet for information-seeking activities has grown 50% since 2000.

This increase was because of users wanting immediate access to information and wanting alternative resources for news and information other than those resources found in traditional print books, newspapers, and journals. (1)

The study asked questions about Internet use by people with disabilities. Although the study found that far too few people with disabilities are online compared with the general population, those who were online were using the resources for basically the same reasons as those without disabilities.

A difference, however, was found between the two groups. If the Internet were not available to people without disabilities, they could conceivably find similar materials at the library or at a bookstore. People with disabilities, especially reading or vision (print) disabilities, don't have that option.

Information resources are no longer limited

Electronic information can be translated into any language needed. This technological advance may be one of the greatest intellectual aids for people who are blind, visually impaired, cognitively challenged, or hearing impaired.

Software programs are available to translate electronic text into Braille, speech, or sign language on command by the user. Blind and visually impaired people are no longer bound by the limitations imposed by the print world.

The Internet also offers people with mobility impairments a chance to stay connected with the community. People who are quadriplegic can still use the Internet. An interface exists for virtually everyone.

Before the development of this technology and the Web, many people with disabilities just gave up the hope for an education--not because they weren't smart enough but because of inaccessible reading materials. Lack of education meant the lack of opportunity to compete for jobs that support a moderate standard of living.

Now they have a chance to attend school either in the classroom or via distance-learning programs and compete in the job market. Access to electronic information enables them to keep the job.

People with disabilities do not have access to computers

The Internet has the potential to equalize the information gap between those people with disabilities and those without. Yet proportionately too few users with disabilities are online, compared with the nondisabled.

Researchers Colin Keane and Jel Macht of the Neil Squire Foundation (a Canadian organization committed to providing education, technology, and career development for people with physical disabilities) noted that the gap existed because many people with disabilities simply lacked access to computers with adaptive technologies (AT).

Their lack of access to computers with AT was not because they didn't want to own a computer--they couldn't afford to buy their own equipment. As a group, people with disabilities are poorer than other Americans and have a difficult time affording the extra expense of adaptive technology. (2)

Most public-access computers remain inaccessible

To compound matters, Keane and Macht found that people with certain disabilities generally find computer stations at public sites cannot be adjusted to accommodate their physical needs. Most lacked appropriate chairs and the needed accommodation software that could help them access the Internet. Keane and Macht found that, in certain instances, public-access workstations were located in remote parts of the building, which could not be easily accessed.

Overall the researchers found that the need for public computer access continues to exist for people with disabilities. This need exists in spite of legislation such as the Americans With Disability Act and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which strongly encourages equity to information for all. …

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