Exploration of the digital divide comes at an interesting time for me. Understanding that I am in the midst of supporting our Human Resources with implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)/Employee Standard and this week is our large Occupational Health & Safety Fair; it seemed only natural that I dig more deeply into the realm of disabilities and digital divide.
Moisey (2007) defined the digital divide as involving “inequalities in access to the Internet, extent of use, knowledge of search strategies, quality of technical connections and social support,and ability to evaluate quality of information.” (p.2). Disability is one factor that can contribute to disparity in a person’s ability to access technology.
Information and communication technologies continue to grow at an exponential rate in workplaces however concern exists on whether employers have fully grasped the impact on employees with disabilities such as vision impairments, hearing problems or limited dexterity. Additionally there is an expected rise in the number of workers with disabilities due to an aging workforce which presents added significance.
The Workplace Visions in 2003 reported that the employment rate on individuals with disabilities has not improved over the past decade and unless barriers to technology improved, a sharp divide and inequality may grow between individuals with and without disabilities.
The internet certainly has the potential to remove disabling barriers and to facilitate inclusion however a tension exists in that the benefits of the internet are not equally experienced by all disabled people. Often the inaccessible design of websites themselves along with incompatible computer hardware and software become the barriers. Workplace Visions cautions that accessibility with technology in the workplace is essential for disabled employees to experience equal social and educational opportunities. Workplaces must look to make changes to better prepare disabled employees in an increasingly computerized workplace; to focus on the future. One such way is to involve a disabled staff themselves in the problem-solving conversation as often they are the most knowledgeable about their own needs which is supported by AODA. Policies and procedures must also be examined to find alignment to accessibility protocols and used consistently in the workplace.
For example many elearn modules in my workplace were built only with audio and images; offering wonderful imagery and sounds. However it is not essential that the modules are examined again with a more critical eye to ensure compliance and satisfy the elearning accessibility guidelines. Consider use of close captioning, screen magnifiers, slide auto advance, other adaptive devices or perhaps workstation adjustments themselves.
We live and work in a knowledge based society that is driven by web based information and communication technology. Workplaces must strive to increase organizational capacity to meet the needs of all employees and citizens of their communities to maintain inclusion and social equality. As a result, I also believe the inclusion extends to the creation of a more global community as disabled staff extend themselves broadly with technology.
Bruyere, S.M., Erickson, W.D, and Schramm, J. (2003). Disability in a Technology-Driven Workplace. Workplace Visions, 5. p1-8
Moisey, S. (2007). The Inclusive Libraries Initiative: Enhancing the access of persons with developmental disabilities to information and communication technology. The Developmental Disabilities Bulletin, 35(1). p.56-71