Economic Factors Involved with Internet Access for People with Disabilities.

Michael R. Burks

Office: 919 870 8788

Much is being said about Internet access for everyone. But what are the economic issues if you are disabled?

Many economic issues are involved; some are general issues faced by everyone such as affordable access to the Internet and affordable access to a local point of presence. But many of the economic issues are more critical for the disabled. Such as with an income far below average, how do you afford the software, hardware access charges and other considerations needed to use the Internet? If you need assistive technology, how do you get that funded and how do you keep it updated to take advantage of the tremendous resources available on the Internet? What advantages in the way of technology useful to the disabled does the Internet offer, and what kind of advantages does using the Internet for information access offer? And what is the cost of not allowing this access or preventing it by sheer neglect? Most importantly, what can a society gain by helping to provide this access to the disabled?


Much is said about Internet access for everyone. What are the economic issues for people with disabilities? Many economic issues are involved, some are general issues faced by everyone such as affordable access to the Internet and affordable access to a local point of presence; however, many of the economic issues are more critical for the disabled. With an income far below average, how can they afford the software, hardware, access charges and other considerations needed to use the Internet?

As the population ages, will more people have disabilities? And what are the economic factors in marketing to this segment of the population? What issues are involved in supporting the disabled customer? If assistive technology is needed, how can that be funded and how can it be updated to take advantage of the tremendous resources available on the Internet? What technological advantages useful to people with disabilities does the Internet offer, and what kind of advantages does using the Internet for information access offer? What is the cost of not allowing this access or preventing it by sheer neglect? Most importantly, what can a society gain by helping to provide this access to the disabled?

General Access Issues

Telecommunications Access Issues

Internet Access Charges as opposed to Long Distance Charges. $19.99 per month Vs 23 cents a minute

Consider the case of the customer who wants free Internet access because they are disabled. They live in a remote area, and the long distance charges can be as high as 23 cents per minute. Perhaps the customer would be better served by and reduced or subsidized long distance rate.

Some Provider Access Issues

Visually impaired users often have problems with registration forms and cannot fill them in without help. A blind person, for example, cannot register for ISP in many cases because they cannot fill out the forms. The registration procedure may not lend itself to a screen reader and they must get a family member or someone else to help them register. This is due to the nature of the registration process. Ways to accommodate visually impaired people should be investigated

Shell Accounts

Many ISP's don't offer shell accounts. Shell accounts do not require the sophisticated Windows based screen readers that many ISP's require. It would solve some problems for some of the disabled community. It does require a higher level of expertise on the part of the user, however.

TTY/TDD Interfaces

Hearing and Speech impaired users have difficulty contacting providers who do not have these interfaces and the personnel trained to use them. Customers must use a relay service which is difficult at best in a technical support situation.

Pricing Issues

Flat Fee Model

A single flat fee for an unlimited or specified number of hours has helped to reduce the actual cost

of Internet access for everyone.

Pay as you go Model

Users only pay for the hours they use, for those who need limited access this is a viable alternative.

Disabled user who wants free or reduced fee access.

A customer who uses the web to research issues related to their disability, they have limited

resources and would like free or reduced access. The important questions are: How does an Internet Service Provider determine who should receive this type of access and who should not? What are the deciding factors?

Economic Issues

General Economic issues

Number of Disabled People

There are 50 Million people with disabilities in the United States, and the number is growing, one

of the factors in the increase number of older people.

Income figures and Marketing Strategies

Disposable income of people with disabilities may exceed African American and Hispanic populations combined. Special marketing programs for these groups have been developed, but there are few if any of

these programs of a scale relevant to the size of the population of people with disabilities.

Aged Income Facts

As a population segment, the aged population tends to have a larger proportion of people with disabilities. This number is growing as people live longer due to better medical facilities and treatment. As a significant segment of the population, older Americans control a great deal of buying power.

People over 50, control 50 % of discretionary income.

People over 65, control 77% of all assets

Disability is the extreme of the aging process. Some of the disabilities faced by an aging population are listed below:

Visual Impairments

Mobility Impairments

Hearing Impairments

Other mental and physical Impairments

Provider Economics

Provider issues

If free or reduced fee access for the disabled is offered, How do you decide who receives access? A clear set of criteria for determining who should receive free or reduced access is needed.

Support issues

Customer Support

Some customers with disabilities require special support. At the very minimum customer support

centers should be equipped with TTY/TDD equipment and people who know how to use this technology.

Scope of support

Configuration Issues

Client software Issues



News Readers

Chat Clients

Other issues

Access Issues

Shell Vs. Web Access

Requires more sophisticated users, but less sophisticated user equipment and software.

Web Site Accessibility issues

Designing accessibility for all potential users insures that a wide range of users can access a site and use it for the its intended purpose.

Retrofitting requires redesign, if the site is to be redesigned anyway accessibility can be part of the new design. This will reduce costs of the retrofit. Many sites are redesigned on a regular basis, this is an opportunity to improve the accessibility of the site.

Software Economics

Initial Cost

The initial cost of software to support certain types of disabilities can be high. Some software uses the Application Programming Interface of the Operating System, others depend on specially written software that is highly proprietary.

Screen readers - These read the screen to the user, some of them are now usable with off the shelf Sound cards.

Voice input software - allow the computer to be controlled with the users voice. This software can be used by people without disabilities who must have their hands free, such as doctors and lawyers.

Upgrade costs are sometimes prohibitive but can be reduced.

Software based on OS API's will generally be cheaper to upgrade and maintain.

Special design software may be more expensive to upgrade because of higher programming costs.

Hardware Economics

Initial Cost

Specialized hardware Vs. off the shelf components

Off the shelf components instead of specialized hardware are cheaper and easier to install in many cases. However, they may not have the high quality that specialized components have.

Upgrade costs

Cheaper to upgrade off the shelf components.

If off the shelf components were used then the likelihood is that upgrading will be cheaper and easier.

Funding Issues

Where to get funding:

Some sources are listed below:




VA Services


The Social Security Administration


State Assistive Technology Projects

State Vocational Rehabilitation Services

State Vocational Rehabilitation/Independent Living Programs

State Equipment Loan Funds

Workman's Compensation Programs

State Education Services


Charitable organizations

Family and friends

Religious Organizations

Service Organizations

Community Groups

Funding for Initial purchase

Initial cost of purchase of hardware and software can be high. While hardware is cheap by regular economic standards, for those who are not able to work the cost is high.

Funding for training

Technology without the training to use it is underutilized at best.

Funding for upgrade of technology

Technology is changing quickly so upgrades are sometimes necessary for individuals to be able to take advantage of the most effective technologies.

Accessibility Issues

Legal issues

Telecommunications Act of 1996

The issues are still under study and definition. So the effect of this law on Internet access is not yet clear.


Workplace and Job listing accommodations.

Employers who do not provide information for employees to do their jobs in accessible format, may well face certain types of legal action. In addition they may have problems if they do not provide job listings in accessible format.

Internet Issues

Web Site Accessibility issues

For example, all of the following areas on web sites are difficult or impossible for visually impaired users to access.. This impairs the effectiveness of the site and renders it unusable to a certain segment of the population..







Alternative media can improve the accessibility of a web site, and by providing alternative ways of presenting your information, you serve a larger segment of the population, disabled or not.

Consumer issues

Unable to use site therefore the purpose of the site is not achieved for both the consumer and the site owner. Goods, services, and information access is denied to a certain segment of the population. This must be provided in some way or another, and that can be expensive.

Commercial Issues

Lost Sales to customers that cannot access the site or buy from it.

Cannot get vital information from sites must call and have human intervention , that is expensive.

Educational Issues

Elementary and secondary Schools sadly lacking In Internet resources and expertise

Some Disabled children unable to access the web

Higher education and employers to are using this as a requirement for jobs and in the education


Intranet Issues

Accessibility on the Job

More and more products used in the everyday course of doing are becoming accessible through web

interfaces. As business moves towards this way functioning, care must be taken to insure that these functions are accessible to all.

Internal Web Site Accessibility

Information for a variety of purposes is being presented to employees on both external and internal web sites. If this information is not presented in an accessible manner not all employees will have the opportunity to use it.

Cost of Accessibility

ISP Issues

Customers who cannot access or use the service will not bring in revenue. For providers who also supply other goods and services besides Internet Access, this can translate into lost revenue in other areas.

Web site issues

Designing for accessibility

Designing for accessibility is cheaper than retro-fitting

Accessibility for the sensory impaired provides alternate ways of presentation for all.

Providing Alternate Media on any web site is a good idea so those who cannot take advantage of the delivery vehicle can get the message in another format.

Retrofitting for accessibility

This is time consuming and expensive, but may have to be done if the site was not designed to be accessible from the beginning. However since many sites require redesign anyway this will be the proper time to incorporate accessibility into the site.

Universal Design

Accessibility for all is the goal.

Designing for accessibility is easier and cheaper than retrofitting. Some Large Corporations have publicly stated they will support Universal Design Principals.

Client Issues

Special Clients for individual Disabilities.

Using the off the shelf client is likely to be cheaper and easier to support.

Cost of Support

Specialized Software Support

If specialized software is used, it has to be supported by someone. This can be an expensive proposition for an access provider.

Dedicated Agent Support

Accessible sites and services require human intervention. Size Fax, email, and live agents are expensive alternatives to sites that are accessible. All require some type of human intervention, whereas an accessible web site serve its function with the same amount of

Cost of no support

Lost customers

Leverage of customer dissatisfaction, people with disabilities all are customers, and dissatisfied customers tell other of their dissatisfaction. More can be lost than just disabled customers. Many service providers

are in other businesses such as local and long distance telephone services. Unhappy customers may discontinue other services as a result of their dissatisfaction.

Possible legal action


Employment information that is presented on the Internet, and is not accessible, may well constitute an ADA violation.

State and Local Laws

A wide range of state and local laws address the accessibility of information for people with disabilities.

Federal Statutes

Numerous federal statutes deal with the accessibility of computers and computer stored information for people with disabilities who are federal employees or contractors.

Lost Government Contracts

Those who do not provide accessible support systems and equal opportunity to disabled employees may face loss of government contracts.

What is to be gained?

What has been gained already?


In the course of history many people have devoted all or part of their lives to assist the disabled, below are listed three outstanding examples of projects that started as effort to help the disabled. Each of these is now

or has been heavily used in our society to great benefit of the general population. When people consider the cost of the technology to assist the disabled, perhaps it would be prudent to consider the benefits already reaped by society in helping the disabled.

The Telephone.

When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone he was trying to find a way to transfer speech in a visual form of representation in order to offer a choice of information presentations for his wife who was suffering from a hearing loss. He failed to invent what he intended but the value of what he did invent is beyond calculation. The fact is that society as it is today could not continue without his telephone.

The Typewriter.

This was invented as a writing device for a blind member of a royal family, and other early developers of typewriters designed for blind people as well.


In the early days of ARPANET one of the lead engineers of the project communicated with his wife(who had a hearing loss) using a text (TTY) messaging device. This was one of the things that influenced the use of text messaging(Email) as an ARPANET application, even though it was not in the original plan.


More productive members that are not dependent on tax dollars

Fully employed people can fund their own access to the Internet.

Viable members of economic society

Pay taxes

Buy goods

Put Money Back in the Economy


Accessible information requires less support and reaches a larger audience.

Providers who are accessible, will have more paying customers.


Employees are more productive

When more Information is available to more people, the pool from which to recruit employees is larger.

People with Disabilities

Better employment opportunities

Access to information and services.

Fully employed people can fund their own access to the Internet.

Emotional Opportunities.

Career Advancement.

Self improvement.

Greater independence.

Overall Improvement in self esteem.


It is expensive to support Internet access for people with disabilities.

It is more Expensive not to Support Internet access for people with disabilities.

Internet allows human interactions to take place with the focus on content rather than secondary factors

such as race, sex, national origin or disability.

Those left behind will be more than physically or mentally disabled, they will be the information


Those who do not have access to available information for any reason will be disadvantaged. Denying anyone access to the great stores of information that will be available will lead to a segregated society based largely on the ability to access and use needed information resources.

"In the same way we once divided the world into the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated, we are now dividing the world into the information haves and have nots. A world of those who cruise the information highway at high speed vs. the techno-peasants who lie in the ditches at the side of the information highway." Jim Kutsch AT&T TransTech

Accelerating change

The changes wrought by information technology are accelerating and those who are not included in the use of these changes for whatever reason will be at a distinct disadvantage. Valuable contributions will be lost or delayed, and the society that does not include all of its members in the benefits of the information age (here as represented by the Internet), will not long remain competitive in global markets. Segregating any segment of the population from information access for any reason will eventually lead to losses in productivity in all areas of the society.

The Information Disadvantaged

If equal access to information is not provided to all, the gap between those who are able to access the available information and those who are not will widen , financially and socially as time goes on. Our society will be divided into the information have and have nots. The overall cost of supporting this type of stratification will grow as time passes, and the results will be unpredictable. Those left behind will most definitely be a burden on the society that practices this sort of discrimination.

Equal access to Information

While equal access for all will not ensure a totally productive and globally competitive society, it will offer opportunities to all to participate in all sorts of activities that are not commonly available. It will offer the chance for all to participate regardless of whether they are disabled, aged, or simply unable to be in a particular place at a particular time.

Equal access to information is vital to full participation in society, both nationally and globally. To remain competitive in a world wide market no one can be wasted. Every person who can make a contribution should have the full opportunity to do so. Denial of this access disables not only the members of society that are denied, but it disables the society that denies them that access. The following things are worth taking into account when assessing the impact of access to the Internet and the resources it provides.

Some web sources that can help with accessibility issues.

Below are listed some accessibility resources..

The focus is on use of computers and the Internet and how to design web resources for accessibility to all, disabled or not. Other important resources have been listed as well. Return to this page for updates on resources and techniques that are useful for the disabled and others to access the Internet..


Disabilities Developments

A resource page for people with disabilities with a focus on the World Wide Web. Many resources are collected here and it is a good starting point to find out information about disabilities in general.

The Trace Center.

Located at the University of Wisconsin, this site provides many resources to help the disabled use computers the access the World Wide Web. Other computer related resources are listed here as well. It also provides a set of guidelines for accessible HTML that will help design web pages that are useable by people with various forms of disabilities.

National Center for

Accessible Media

NCAM helps to make media available to all Americans, including the disabled, users of minority languages, and those with difficulty reading for whatever reason.

Gallaudet University

"...a university world-renowned in the field of deafness and education of deaf students..."

The Center for Information Technology Accommodation

"...a clearinghouse of information on making Information Systems accessible to all users." It has many resources related to U.S. Government initiatives as well as legislative information.

DO-IT at the University of Washington

"A goal of DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology), is to increase the participation of individuals with disabilities in science, engineering, and mathematics academic programs and careers."

href=" bin/tochtml/disability/0intro.disability">InterNIC

Disabilities Directory

"The Disabilities Section of the InterNIC Directory of Directories contains listings of resources on the Internet about handicaps and disabilities. "

href=" ">The Yahoo Disabilities Page

This page contains many links to a large variety of resources for the disabled.

NCSU Center for Universal Design

"The Center for Universal Design is a national research, information, and technical assistance center that evaluates, develops, and promotes accessible and universal design in buildings and related products. You have two choices for viewing the Center's information."


Assistive Technology A Resource for School, Work, and Community Karen F Flippo, Katherine J. Inge, and J. Michael Barcus Copyright 1995 Paul H. Brookes Publishing Inc. Baltimore, Maryland

NIST Special Publication 868 The Information Infrastructure: Reaching Society's Goals. Copyright 1994

The Information Industry and Customers with Disabilities. Copyright 1995 Inclusive Technologies Jim Tobias

"Building a Ramp onto the Information Superhighway" By Betsy Bayha Employment in the Mainstream January-February 1996 pp 17-19

Guidelines for the use of Assistive Technology: Evaluation Referral Prescription

Department of Geriatric Health, American Medical Association, 515 North State Street, Chicago, IL 60610 Copyright 1994


I would like to acknowledge the support and help of the following people without whom I could not have completed this project.

Beth Asaro, a good friend, who listens, and suggests, and tells the truth.

Jim Benninger Who has been my friend and mentor for many years. He has always encouraged me to do my personal best. And most importantly, he listens.

Dr. Patricia B. Trossman who has encouraged me all my life. And helped me to focus this project.

Dr. Jim Kutsch of AT&T. Transtech who helped me define and refine many of the concepts here.

Larry Trachtman, who continues to be patient and teach me about Universal Design.

Jim Tobias who sent me a copy of his benchmarking study by return email.

Vice President Al Gore and the staff of the Office of the Vice President. His staff was very helpful in supplying information about the National Information Infrastructure and the new Telecommunications Act.

Senator Jesse Helms and His Staff in Raleigh and Washington. They pointed me in the right direction to get much of the information I needed.

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