In the next series of questions, we discussed disabled people’s usage of the Internet, and how it compares and contrasts from how non-disabled people use it.
Q: What experiences do you have in working with disabled individuals that are using the Internet?
A: People with disabilities are not on the internet as much as they could be–that’s partially why we started our Computer Recycling Program–to provide recycled computers and computer training for people with disabilities who can’t otherwise afford one.
Computer skills and internet research are taken for granted by many people without disabilities. To level the playing field on a fixed income, people with disabilities need to gain those skills to be more employable, get their information quicker, develop personal relationships through social networking, etc. Much like people who don’t have disabilities, once people with disabilities get comfortable with the internet and all there is there, they get more active with it.
Many people with disabilities also find that there are fewer barriers on the internet than in the community if they have physical disabilities. People on the internet can’t tell if you have a disability unless you disclose that–there is no “first impression” or “stereotyping” that happens in an email or on social media related to disability.
The internet can be community-building as well–around advocacy issues if physical meetings can’t take place and people with disabilities may be able to communicate with others who have similar disabilities or more readily gain information about their disability or medical conditions on the internet. I’ve heard good things about online order forms e.g. ordering a pizza or sub for delivery through online form so they don’t need to venture out to get food or speak on the phone if that is difficult for example.
Q: What are some of the frustrations these individuals encounter?
A: People who use screen readers and other AT devices can have a harder time if web access isn’t built into websites. Accessible web design is good for SEO and there’s new hope that access will be more in the forefront as a result of this trend.
However, the new, quick media including audio and video clips e.g. news websites, You Tube, etc. have limited videos with captioning, text descriptions and even now alt tags on photo images on websites are often overlooked which, continue to be a problem for people with some disabilities.
Q: What sort of activities or information do disabled web users seek out? Is it radically different from those without disabilities?
A: No not radically different. If you need information about a location–there’s a map, transportation options, info about store hours, etc. just like everyone without a disability might want. I think people with and without disabilities who have computer training, use the internet similarly.
Our challenge is to be sure there are opportunities for people with disabilities who want to have a computer and gain the training so they can improve their skill level. There may be more desire to get information about their disability online if someone has a disability.
You really can’t generalize since many people with age-related disability are getting email addresses, joining Facebook and becoming users of the internet. Our IT Network Admin has a spinal cord injury and uses a wheelchair–he’s very technologically savvy!
Once again, I’d like to thank Carol Voss of IndependenceFirst for these insightful answers. In the third and final installment of my email interview with her, we cover assistive technologies and a little bit about IndependenceFirst’s Web presence via Twitter.