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The Nation's proper goals regarding individuals with disabilities are to assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for such individuals -- American Disabilities Act, Sec. 2(a)(8).
In 2002, the Bush administration released a report entitled A Nation Online: How Americans Are Expanding Their Use of the Internet. This report was in a direct response to and signaled a significant change from the Clinton administration’s policy to tackle the Digital Divide. In the new report, the Bush administration concludes that there is no Digital Divide and that any perceived disparities in uses of the Internet are fading away in time.
Except! Except with regards to individuals with disablities. Consistent with findings under the Clinton administration, the Bush administration expressed strong and continued concern about the ability of persons to disabilities to experience the benefits of cyberspace. Roughly 8.5 percent of the total American population has vision impairment, hearing impairment, or difficulty walking, typing or leaving the home. That number spikes to 30 percent of the population who is 65 years of age or older. And, ironically, that latter age group is the group that the so called “fathers of the Internet” now fall within. The wizards who stayed up late in the 1960s and 1970s building the ARPANet and the Internet are now senior citizens with visual and hearing disabilities. NTIA found that individuals with disabilities are considerably less likely than the rest of the population to own a computer or to be Internet users. For example, in the age group 60 years or older, 25.4 percent of the general population was found to be Internet users while only 9.6 percent of those who are severely visually impaired were found to be Internet users. [NTIA, A Nation Online, page 77, Table 7-5.]
In 2000, Dennis Hayes gave the following testimony before a Congressional Committee:"In 1977, I sat at my kitchen table in Atlanta, GA, and developed the core technology for the Hayes asynchronous modem, a device that enabled computers to communicate with one another across common telephone lines. This device for the first time put computer communications within the reach of ordinary families. And it created the means for online services to develop - from the early services like CompuServe, to the bulletin board systems of the early Nineties, to the Internet used by 120 million Americans today.
"Because I helped to make the Internet possible, it is especially ironic that I am not able to use much of its best content. A congenital, degenerative vision condition has reduced my eyesight over the past years. I haven't lost my sight, but do require additional magnification and other assistance to see well. And on the Internet, that is a significant problem -- many of the most important destinations are so poorly designed that they are difficult for even the average user to navigate much less a vision-impaired user.
"What this means is that for 50 million disabled Americans, the Internet is either totally or partially inaccessible. This is a source of great frustration for disabled people, since they are among the most likely o benefit from the products and services offered on the Internet." [Hayes]
Next: Americans Disabilities Act.