The Digital Divide and You. . .

Throughout the world we are in the midst of a digital transformation in which we are increasingly interconnected as more and more services are being delivered online.  Despite the many benefits inherent in this interconnectivity, a digital divide exists in  which individuals with disabilities and seniors are on the far side of the divide.

In our rush to adopt, implement, and use emerging technology, we all too often overlook individuals with disabilities and older adults.  These two groups have a significant influence and economic impact in the world – that we ignore at our peril.

In the US

A household economic study issued by the U.S. Census Bureau (July 2012),  Americans With Disabilities: 2010, states there are  approximately 56.7 million people in the U.S. who have a disability.  At 20% of the population, “individuals with disabilities hold a distinct position in the U.S. economy, both for their contributions to the marketplace and roles in government policies and programs. People with disabilities bring unique sets of skills to the workplace, enhancing the strength and diversity of the U.S. labor market. In addition, they make up a significant market of consumers, representing more than $200 billion in discretionary spending and spurring technological innovation and entrepreneurship.”

In Europe

Rob Sinclair, chief accessibility officer at Microsoft writes in “Improving Access Can Close Digital Divide,”  “technology innovations . . .are just one side of the coin. We also need policy frameworks in place that put forward accessibility rules pointing to global accessibility standards and implements programmes to remove economic and social barriers that prevent people with disabilities from participating in all aspects of life. . .  . As we all move forward to an increasingly interconnected future, where technology plays an ever more important role in everyone’s daily lives, it is vital that we do not let individuals with disabilities or age-related impairments get left behind.”

Excuses, Excuses

Excuses persist for the lack of routine accessibility in information and communications technology. If the usual arguments for accessibility–including the well-documented contributions to society by individuals with disabilities–are not enough, then consider this:

You — Yes,  YOU

As we age, our chances of having some kind of disability rises significantly – to 50% and more. So when you’re considering whether accessibility is important, keep in mind that it could  be YOU you are ensuring accessibility for. If it isn’t you, it will be someone you know, and possibly someone you love. Not only is the population of older people growing, but as people get older their rate of disabilities increase as well.

Karl Groves, a consultant with Simply Accessible,  discusses accessibility from the business perspective  of growing older in  “Yes, actually it may be you one day,”   Groves points out that “28% of the WCAG Success Criterion are mapped to benefits for Senior users. Baby Boomers account for 47% of US families and have over $2,000,000,000 in buying power.”

Sometimes it seems to me that business and industry are in denial.


WINAHEAD is made up of representatives from thirty institutions. Our members are professionals employed by two- and four-year colleges and universities who work directly with students with disabilities to ensure equal access to higher education. WIN indicates the geographic area we represent: Western Iowa and Nebraska. AHEAD is our national parent organization, the Association on Higher Education and Disability.
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