Internet access for disabled people: Understanding socio-relational factors in Europe
Access to the Internet has become a sine qua non-of everyday life. It also offers new routes to economic and social inclusion for disabled people. Research on the digital divide shows that social factors affect Internet access but disability status is often overlooked. This paper assesses the extent to which disability makes a difference and how it interacts with other social effects to produce distinctive forms of digital exclusion. The analysis uses survey data from 27 European countries to explore and model, statistically, the interactions between Internet access, disability status, age, gender, education, household financial situation and household composition. Multilevel analysis confirms that socio-demographic factors can explain much variance in outcomes but there is a distinctive disability effect. In particular, the adverse effects of financial constraint, aging and living alone are exacerbated among disabled people. New policies to strengthen e-accessibility, arising from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and from the European Union, are important but cannot ignore those who are still excluded from the online revolution. Disabled people are over-represented in this group. The evidence suggests that both accessible technologies and appropriate supportive relationships are needed to address this.
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