This summer The Children's Partnership¸ national nonprofit child advocacy organization, published a report about high speed internet access and children with disabilities. The report, called Helping Our Children with Disabilities Succeed: What's Broadband Got to Do with It?, concludes that while high speed connections are important for all American families, those with children who have physical and learning disabilities can benefit even more.
In the United States, 8.4 percent of children under 15 years old and 10.5 percent of young people ages 15 to 24 have a disability. These young people can use high speed internet connections to overcome "barriers of distance, geographic location, ability, and language and can create opportunities that otherwise would not exist."
Broadband’s speed enables users to access a variety of ways to communicate and exchange information through text chat, sound, video, closed captioning, and speech recognition, removing barriers and allowing youth to pursue experiences to which they otherwise would not have access. In some instances, having access to broadband speeds higher than the current Federal Communications Commission definition is even more crucial for people with disabilities due to the nature of these applications and their bandwidth requirements.
The problem is that so many of these children lack access to high speed internet connections. According to the Children's Partnership report, only a quarter of disabled children use the internet at home, and just 38 percent even have online access. The digital divide is cheating these children out of incredible opportunities to overcome their disabilities.
Reasons for the low rates of high speed internet access among disabled children include lack of awareness and availability, as well as the high cost of high speed connections. The Children's Partnership makes a variety of recommendations to fix these problems. Among them:
- Ensure revisions of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 maintain universal service principles.
- Encourage build-out of broadband infrastructure into all communities and ensure competition keeps costs low.
- Provide publicly accessible maps of broadband availability and build-out progress at the Census tract level.
- Define broadband speed in a manner consistent with global industry standards.
These measures will go a long way to making sure all Americans can reap the benefits of high speed internet access -- especially those who need it most.