Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Articulating Learning Disabilities in the Digital Age

Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Articulating Learning Disabilities in the Digital Age

Article excerpt

Abstract. In a 1986 study published in the Learning Disability Quarterly, Simmons and Kame'enui examined information found in popular periodicals about learning disabilities (LD) in an effort to understand what people learn about LD from these high-readership sources. After more than 20 years, advances in technology have brought significant changes to how people obtain and disseminate information. Therefore, we revisited the findings of Simmons and Kame'enui by investigating information about LD presented on the Internet. An analysis of the contents of 23 websites suggested that medically based etiologies are most frequently associated with LD, supporting the 1986 results. Unlike the 1986 findings, however, the interventions found on the Internet include a variety of educational supports designed to promote the success of students with LD in the general education environment. Situated in the context of the digital age, implications for LD organizations and future research are provided.


The world of the 21st century, the so-called digital age, is one in which technology permeates daily life. IPods, portable digital video disc (DVD) players, digital cameras, and Gameboys have placed entertainment in the palms of our hands. Moreover, the advent of cell phones, Blackberries, and personal digital assistants (PDAs) has made communication and organization virtually seamless in a fast-paced world. In particular, computers and the Internet have forever changed how we access and store information.

With a computer and an Internet connection, the general public can retrieve information on virtually any topic. In fact, the amount of digital information that is available and transacted on-line is astounding. Estimates from an International Data Corporation (IDC) report indicated the amount of digital information created and exchanged in 2006 was equal to 161 billion GBytes (Weier, 2007). One hundred sixty-one billion GBytes is "roughly equivalent to the contents of 12 stacks of books extending from the Earth to the sun" (Weier, p. 36).

To help navigate the Internet and its extensive collection of information, search engines such as Google[TM] and Yahoo![R] provide access to thousands of documents, websites, and data files on a chosen topic in a matter of seconds. Many libraries offer online access to electronic books and journal articles, thus allowing research to be conducted from the comfort of one's home, school, or workplace. Moreover, data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, and from the Pew Internet & American Life Project reports, show that the majority of U.S. households are equipped with computers and Internet connections. In 2005, 64% of homes had Internet access (U.S. Census Bureau, 2005). It is reasonable to assume this estimate is even higher in 2008, as the number of homes equipped with high-speed Internet has risen steadily over the past four years (Horrigan, 2008).

The rapidly changing world of technology has important implications for the research community (Henry, 2002; Nachmias & Gilad, 2002). More people from a variety of backgrounds can access information resulting from scholars' efforts (Nachmias & Gilad). Moreover, some have argued that the Internet can further democracy by facilitating the communication and promotion of democratic ideals across countries despite physical borders or boundaries (Kedzie, 1996; Richards, 2002).

However, there are drawbacks to the information contained on the Internet. Unlike conventional publishing in which journal, book, or magazine editors must approve and accept authors' work, electronic publishing via the Internet has no quality control or screening process. Anybody can publish anything at any time. The unrestricted nature of the Internet allows people to post unsubstantiated information, thus jeopardizing the integrity of the information. Moreover, some believe the Internet does not provide broader access to new information as websites "range from generating their own content to solely aggregating content from other sources" (The Project for Excellence in Journalism, 2008). …

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