Why Access to the Internet is Important to Members of the Disabled Community


Table Of Contents

Federal Laws and Policies
State Laws
Initiatives in the Public and Private Sectors
Public Awareness and Sensitivity Towards Issues and Barriers Facing the Disabled.
Disabilities and Societal Groups.
Future Outlook
Existing Information Technology and People with Disabilities.
Some Resources Available to Disabled Workers
Additional Issues Related to Internet Access and the Disabled Community.
Historical Benefits to Society


This paper will discuss current resources available to the disabled worker in the United States and how existing and future technology can be used to assist and improve the employment outlook amongst the 50 million disabled Americans. It will be presented in the context that the Internet and the technologies that are associated with it can be a valuable resource to the disabled and non disabled worker alike It will examine the proposition that the real disability will be denial of access to the Information resources, regardless of the reason.

Much of the assistance available for the disabled is due to legislative initiatives. In particular federal legislation over the last 20 years has helped improve the employment and educational situation for disabled Americans.

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Federal Laws and Policies

Rehabilitation Act of 1973 Public Law 93-112-1973

Promoted increased awareness the issues of the disabled, individual civil rights, and promoted research for the disabled.

Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Acts of 1975 Public Law 94-103-1975

Moved from "Employability" to "Maximum Potential."

Education Act for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 Public Law 94-142-1975

Provided federal support for free public education of the handicapped. Provided vehicle for gaining equipment needed to provide the free education.

Establishment of U.S. Department of Education centers for technical excellence 1976

Establishment of centers for rehabilitation engineering centers for assessment and research for the disabled.

Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1978 Public Law 95-602-1978

Furthering of the rehabilitation engineering centers.

Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1986 Public Law 99-506

Provided a definition and expansion of the role of rehabilitation engineering for the planning of vocational rehabilitation.

Employment Opportunity for Disabled Americans Act of 1986 Public Law 99-463 -1986

Allocated income set aside for SSI and SSDI recipients to purchase technology for the disabled.

Education for the Handicapped Act Amendments Act of 1986 Public Law 99-457-1986

Required the design and adaptation of technology that is used in teaching students that are disabled.

Technology Related Assistance Act of 1988 Public Law 100-542-1988

This mandates a proactive approach to providing access to the federal telecommunications system by persons with hearing or speech limitations.

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 Public Law 101-336-1990

Information Access Mandates, and provided civil rights to people with disabilities.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990 Public Law 101-476- 1990

The availability of assistive devices is to be the responsibility of public agencies.

Rehabilitation Act Amendments Public Law 102-569-1992

Insures Federal Investments in Information technology be conducted in a way that ensures that federal employees with disabilities will have access to computers and information services. It also requires access for persons with disabilities to public information services. It further requires every rehabilitation agency to address the issue of assistive technology in all aspects of the rehabilitation arena.

Technology Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1994 . Public Law 103-218

Increases the accountability of individual states in the conducting of their systems change projects, and increases the role of advocacy services.

National Information Infrastructure 1993

Equal Access for all is promoted by this federal initiative and many public and private programs initiatives are promoted by this process. It brings focus to the needs of the disabled to be able to access all aspects of the Information Superhighway.

Telecommunications Act of 1996

Accessibility to online and other telecommunications services.

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State Laws

Follow the federal Guidelines and sometimes improve upon them A state by state breakdown is beyond the scope of this paper, however most state initiatives are based on federal mandates and or funding. Most of the state statutes are driven by federal laws, and requirements.

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Initiatives in the Public and Private Sectors

Public Initiatives

Universal Access Project is one of the most important concepts for assisting the disabled, it emphasizes Design rather than retrofitting and promotes Equal Access for all regardless of disability or not. These concepts emphasize the idea that software and hardware will be usable for the most part by all, rather than by just the disabled. Below are listed the principals of this concept.

Principals of Universal Design*

(Working Draft, Revised 9/7/95)

Principal One:

Simple and Intuitive Use. Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user's experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.

Principal Two:

Equitable Use. The design does not disadvantage or stigmatize any group of users.

Principal Three:

Perceptible Information. The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user's sensory abilities.

Principal Four:

Tolerance of Error. The design minimizes the consequence of accidental or unintended actions.

Principal Five:

Accommodation of Preferences and Abilities. The design accommodates as wide range of individual preferences and abilities.


Principal Six:

Low Physical Effort. The design can be used efficiently and comfortably with a minimum of fatigue.

Principal Seven:

Space for approach and use. Appropriate space is provided for approach, reach, and use regardless of user's body size, posture, or mobility.

* These guidelines were copied from the article
"Building a Ramp onto the Information Superhighway"
By Betsy Bayha
Employment in the Mainstream
January-February 1996
pp 17-19
Ms Bayha is the manager of the Universal Access Project for the World Institute on Disability, in the Division of Technology.
World Institute on Disability (WID)

Private Sector Initiatives

There are a growing number of groups in the private sector that are investigating how to improve the design and use of various products for information access, as well as awards that encourage good product and service design.

Industry Activities

Many corporations are making positive moves to assist disabled employees and customers Some of the ways corporations are dealing with assistive technologies and the disabled are:


This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it shows that there is a long history and tradition both legislative pressure and independent work directed towards assistance for the disabled. Providing technology and service access the disabled has been a goal of many of the above laws and initiatives. Ensuring that the disabled have access to the Internet and to the National Information Infrastructure will improve the employment and educational opportunities for the disabled. Over the last several years the direction has been towards integrating the disabled into society as completely as possible, and the use of the Internet offers great opportunities for the disabled to compete on an equal footing in the society of the present and future.

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Public Awareness and Sensitivity Towards Issues and Barriers Facing the Disabled.

Awareness VS Non Awareness

Many people are simply not aware of the barriers faced by the disabled, and in fact until one either becomes disabled or has a family member or friend who is disabled, one may never become aware of these barriers.

Sensitivity VS. Non Sensitivity

Even awareness does not guarantee sensitivity to the issues of removing the barriers to becoming a productive member of society, many managers do not want to be bothered or incur the perceived expense of accommodating the disabled worker, or they may still harbor the attitude that the disabled should be isolated from society. Many people are quite sensitive to the situations posed by presence of disabled workers and come to realize that the disabled worker is a just one more type of person amongst many to be found in the workplace in particular and society in general.

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Disabilities and Societal Groups.

Disabilities are to been seen across all lines in our society, they are not confined to any particular racial, age, cultural, or gender segment. Everyone has the potential to be disabled, and with an aging population, the chances of joining this segment of the population are a certainty for many people. As the population ages, many productive people will face new challenges. In this area. The Internet and the services it encompasses offer unique opportunities for communications and improved productivity for all workers not just the disabled. All segments of society will benefit from things such as Email communications and in the with equal access to these services, the all members of society will be able to work and communicate on an equal or near equal basis.

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Future Outlook

Where do we want to be?

Effective use of the above resources is critical to our society, if the disabled are excluded from these areas, they will be at an even more distinct disadvantage than they are presently.
Types Of Disabilities Addressed by this Paper.
The scope of this paper is too small to individually address the definition of all types of disabilities. However, the principals of Universal Design are such that as much as possible Internet access should be available to anyone whether they have a physical disability or a cognitive disability or no disability whatsoever. All will benefit so in principal all are included.

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Existing Information Technology and People with Disabilities.

Who are the disabled?

There are 50 million disabled in this country. They are all ages, racial and cultural backgrounds. Many have multiple disabilities, many are only slightly disabled, some have disabilities due to age, some were born that way.

One group in particular, the aged, has many members who will become disabled. They are particularly important because of the following reasons. The current population is 34 million, it will grow by 117% in next 50 years. People over 50 control 50 % of discretionary funds and people over 65 control 77% of all assets. This is a growing segment of the population that will have a high percentage of disabled members, they also control much of the wealth in this country, there are compelling economic reasons to provide services that are easy for this segment of the population to access.

The Real Issue

Those who do not have access to available information for any reason will be disadvantaged. Denying anyone access to the great stores of information that will be available will lead to a segregated society based solely on the ability to access and use needed information resources.

Existing Resources

Some of the existing Internet technology is already being used by disabled Internet uses. Email and Newsgroups, as well as chat are a particular boon to those with hearing problems. They can be used on an equal footing with those who do not have hearing losses. Units that can convert text to speech provide similar benefits to those who are blind or visually impaired. This is just one example of the way the Internet is assisting and has assisted the disabled.

Some Real Needs

Affordable Internet Access

Dropping prices for accessing the Internet are an important step, because much of the technology used to convert from one medium to another in order to make resources available to the disabled, requires long access times in order to do the conversions.

Affordable Local Access

As more and more people want to access the Internet, it is becoming economically feasible for providers to supply more local access numbers to areas that were previously excluded..

Modern Up to Date Affordable Equipment

As technology in general advances, and as the technology used to access the Internet advances, the disabled face the same problem that all of us due in keeping the technology current and usable. Unfortunately many of them do not posses the financial resources to acquire the technology they need.

Financial Assistance

To keep the technology current and usable, requires financial assistance for many of the disabled. This is a serious problem in many cases and requires creativity on the part of all involved.

Employment for the Disabled

The most obvious way to reduce this dependency is for people to be employed in productive well paid jobs. Since information is so critical in our society, obviously providing access to the Internet and Internet type networks for the disabled is essential to employing all types of people, disabled or not.

Products and Services based on Universal Design

Products and services based on Universal Design Principals will have several positive effects:

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Some Resources Available to Disabled Workers

Focus Groups

Groups of this nature give the disabled a chance to provide input into both public and private processes that are producing and providing products and services for the disabled.

Advocacy Groups

These groups help to change laws, policies, and practices that will result in programs and services more responsive to the consumer.

Public Education Accessibility

This insures that Publicly funded education is accessible to all regardless of disability or not. It insures that wherever possible the disabled will be educated as far as the public education system is able to do so. It also demands that such resources as the Internet be accessible to the disabled through the public educational system.

Government Assistance

Following the mandates set forth in the beginning of this paper as outlined in the list of federal legislation, there are a number of state and federal agencies that can be of assistance obtaining the technology needed for Internet access, and they also help ensure that the mandates for service access are complied with.

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Additional Issues Related to Internet Access and the Disabled Community.

Telecommuting and the Disabled.

For those with mobility problems Telecommuting can be used to great advantage, both to the disabled worker, and to the employer. The use of email, and Internet research facilities are valuable tools that can be used anywhere, and for an employee whose work can be structured around these tools and others, Telecommuting can provide a valuable relief from the necessity of being at work every day. For those with mobility problems it is especially valuable because it reduces the stress of commuting Thus leaving more energy for productive work. Chat groups have also been used as an electronic water cooler in some instances.

Information Access

Equal access to information is vital to full participation in society, both nationally and globally. To remain competitive in a world wide market no one can be wasted. Every person who can make a contribution should have the full opportunity to do so. Denial of this access disables not only the members of society that are denied, but it disables the society that denies them that access. The following things are worth taking into account when assessing the impact of access to the Internet and the resources it provides.

Accelerating change

The changes wrought by information technology are accelerating and those who are not included in the use of these changes for whatever reason will be at a distinct disadvantage. Valuable contributions will be lost or delayed, and the society that does not include all of its members in the benefits of the information age (here as represented by the Internet), will not long remain competitive in global markets. Segregating any segment of the population from information access for any reason will eventually lead to losses in productivity in all areas of the society.

The Information Disadvantaged

If equal access to information is not provided to all, the gap between those who are able to access the available information and those who are not will widen , financially and socially as time goes on. Our society will be divided into the information have and have nots. The overall cost of supporting this type of stratification will grow as time goes on, and the results will be unpredictable. The results will most definitely be a burden on the society that practices this sort of discrimination.

Equal access to Information

While equal access for all will not ensure a totally productive and globally competitive society, it will offer opportunities to all to participate in all sorts of activities that are not commonly available. It will offer the chance for all to participate regardless of whether they are disabled, aged, or simply unable to be in a particular place at a particular time.

Leveled playing field for the disabled.

Such information modes as Email, Chat, and Newsgroups offer many disabled people the opportunity to compete with the non disabled on an equal basis. Email for example makes no discrimination as to whether you are deaf of not. If you have a means to convert the text to speech, people with visual disabilities can also compete on an equal footing.

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Historical Benefits to Society

In the course of history many people have devoted all or part of their lives to assist the disabled, below are listed three outstanding examples of projects that started as effort to help the disabled. Each of these is now or has been heavily used in our society to great benefit of the general population. When people consider the cost of the technology to assist the disabled, perhaps it would be prudent to consider the benefits already reaped by society in helping the disabled.

The Telephone.

When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone he was trying to find a way to transfer speech in a visual form of representation in order to offer a choice of information presentations for his wife who was suffering from a hearing loss. He failed to invent what he intended but the value of what he did invent is beyond calculation. The fact is that society as it is today could not continue without he telephone.

The Typewriter.

This was invented as a writing device for a blind member of a royal family, and other early developers of typewriters designed for blind people as well.


In the early days of ARPANET one of the lead engineers of the project communicated with his wife(who had a hearing loss) using a text (TTY) messaging device. This was one of the things that influenced the use of text messaging(Email) as an ARPANET application, even though it was not in the original plan.

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The Internet and the emerging technological innovations associated with it and attached to it are certainly valuable resources for the disabled. But the real key is the commitment of our society and its members to integrating everyone into the information age, and not denying access to information to any group.

The cost of maintaining this type of stratification will be high, in terms of unemployment, welfare. and a host of social problems known and unknown. In the case of the disabled, the real cost is measured in whether or not it is cheaper to support a large population of disabled citizens with tax dollars, or whether the cost of helping them become self sufficient where possible, will repay any investment the society may make in the assistance of members of that society. Already services such as Email, Chat, and Newsgroups are helping disabled net users and off net users. Not just as a means of direct communications, but in such areas as research and information access.

No one can predict what the future will bring, but excluding any group from full participation in society is a terrible and unaffordable waste of human resources. The Internet holds a suite of tools and resources that can be used to avoid this waste. Proper use of these tools will ensure that the disabled can fully participate in the exciting future ahead.

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Assistive Technology A Resource for School, Work, and Community

Karen F Flippo, Katherine J. Inge, and J. Michael Barcus
Copyright 1995
Paul H. Brookes Publishing Inc.
Baltimore, Maryland


The Information Infrastructure: Reaching Society’s Goals

U.S. Department of Commerce
NIST Special Publication 868
Copyright 1994

"The Information Industry and Customers with Disabilities."

Copyright 1995 Inclusive Technologies
Jim Tobias

"Building a Ramp onto the Information Superhighway"

By Betsy Bayha
Employment in the Mainstream
January-February 1996
pp 17-19

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I would like to acknowledge the support and help of the following people without whom I could not have completed this project.

Jim Benninger Who has been my friend and mentor for many years. He has always encouraged me to do my personal best. And most importantly, he listens.

Dr. Patricia B. Trossman who has encouraged me all my life. And helped me to focus this project.

Colleen Mullens who encourages everyone to push their limits and achieve the best.

Susan Wheeler for encouraging me to do this paper and pursue these ideas.

Beth Asaro: Who listens as well as anyone I have ever met.

John Krejci: Who has given me many of the ideas embodied in this paper

Larry Trachtman: Who took a lot of time to help someone he did not even know and gave me a good deal of the base material for this paper.

Jim Tobias who sent me a copy of his benchmarking study by return email.

Daisy: Who went over the outline and gave me many suggestions to improve the content.

Vice President Al Gore and the staff of the Office of the Vice President. His staff was very helpful in supplying information about the National Information Infrastructure and the new Telecommunications Act.

Senator Jesse Helms and His Staff in Raleigh and Washington. They pointed me in the right direction to get much of the information I needed.

Triangle Publishing: They helped me produce the presentation in Montreal.

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