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Disabled people represent the true digital divide

IT offers much to those least likely to use it -- report

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Disabled Americans are missing out on a good deal of the benefit which IT can offer them, a new study concludes. Only twenty-four percent of disabled Americans own computers compared with a national average of over fifty, and only ten percent use the Internet compared with a national average of thirty-eight, according to a report from the Disability Statistics Center at the University of California, San Francisco, written by David Keer of the US Department of Education. Elderly people with disabilities, and disabled people with low incomes or minimal education, are even less likely to take advantage of such technology, the report notes. In previous coverage of the Digital Divide, The Register ridiculed the Clinton Administration's cultural arrogance in calculating the desire of minorities to emulate Whites by getting wired, as if Blacks and Hispanics should be seen as nothing more than Whites in training. With the handicapped, we see an entirely different picture. Disabled people have little to lose and much to gain from joining the wired community. Internet chat and e-mail can provide relief from social isolation; access to news, academic libraries and research materials can be accomplished with a mouse click; Net entrepreneurship can provide a much-needed opportunity to work from home; on-line shopping promises convenience and independence. With the advent of speech-recognition software, the blind, who normally wait months or years for information to be made available in Braille or on audio tape, can access such material as soon as it becomes available. The motor-disabled can use speech-recognition technology to write e-mail, pay bills, or perform work-related tasks, the report observes. Indeed, the more we think about it, the more convinced we are that the true promise of the Internet is precisely that of service to the disabled. We hope they won't be overlooked, as they so often are, as Washington prepares to propitiate the many competing Sacred Cows of Political Correctness with federal dollars for community investment in technology programmes. ® Related stories Govt gives voice to Net for the blindBlind AOL users sue over discrimination Blind people struggle to use the Web/a>

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