Where can I find information on the digital divide?

Updated February 5th, 2013

The term digital divide refers to the gap that exists between those who have and those who do not have access to technology. The term gained popularity in the late 1990s, fueled in part by a series of reports from the U.S. Department of Commerce National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). All of these reports, plus a variety of additional information, are available on NTIA's web site Falling Through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide.

The 2002 report A Nation Online: How Americans Are Expanding Their Use of the Internet was the first to address people with disabilities as one of the excluded groups. The report, , was generally more positive than its predecessors and provided data confirming, among other things, that computer and Internet use was increasing for people in the United States regardless of income, education, age, race, ethnicity, or gender. However, the report also showed that people with disabilities are much less likely to be computer or Internet users than people without disabilities.

In November 2011, NTIA released an updated report, Exploring the Digital Nation: Home Broadband Internet Adoption in the United States, based on the October 2010 US Census data. While this report showed that computer and Internet use was becoming more commonplace amongst all households, it also showed that there is still a significant gap in computer and Internet use between householders with a disability (54%) and householders without a disability (80%). Households headed by people with disabilities were also much less likely to subscribe to broadband service than those with no disability. Once the data was controlled for income, education, age, and other factors, the gap in Broadband usage declined from 29% to 6%, suggesting that differences in demographic and socio-economic attributes and geography explain a substantial portion of the disability-related broadband gap, even among computer owners.

In April 2012, the Pew Internet and American Life Project a released a report based on their own research, entitled Digital Differences , which outlines a similar gap between adults accessing the Internet. Some 54% percent of adults living with a disability use the internet, compared with 81% of adults without a disability. In addition, the Pew report noted that "2% of American adults say they have a disability or illness that makes it more difficult—or impossible—for them to use the internet."

While it would seem that computer use and the Internet should make a positive difference to a person with a disability in undertaking activities of daily living and better integration into the community, the digital divide over the past 10 years between computer and Internet use by all people with disabilities and those without a disability has remained around 28% to 29%, with demographic and socio-economic attributes playing a large part in keeping this divide at that level.

a Zickuhr, Kathryn and Smith, Aaron. Digital differences, Pew Internet & American Life Project, April 13, 2012, http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2012/Digital-differences.aspx, accessed on February 5th, 2013.