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Networks, Accessibility, and Barriers

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Accessibility in Municipal Wireless Networks: System Implementation, Policy, and Potential Barriers for People with Disabilities Paul M.A. Baker, Ph.D, AICP and Avonne Bell Center for Advanced Communication Policy (CACP) Georgia Institute of technology

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Accessibility in Municipal Wireless Networks: System Implementation, Policy, and Potential Barriers for People with Disabilities

Paul M.A. Baker, Ph.D, AICP and Avonne Bell

Center for Advanced Communication Policy (CACP)

Georgia Institute of technology

Pre-conference Workshop “Mobile Communication: Bringing Us Together or Tearing Us Apart?”

57th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association

San Francisco, California

May 23-24, 2007

AN AFFILIATE OF THE GEORGIA RESEARCH ALLIANCE

networks accessibility and barriers
Networks, Accessibility, and Barriers
  • “Wireless broadband constitutes a critical component of our nation’s goal of ensuring that reliable and ubiquitous broadband becomes available for all Americans” (US FCC)
  • State of municipal wireless network design and policies with regards to people with disabilities (PWD) in the United States
  • 320 municipalities (+/-) with wireless networks in existence, planned, or being considered
  • Existing system websites/documentation surveyed for accessibility and usability of system information for PWD
  • Applied research: findings used to develop policy briefings, filings, advisories and guidance on accessibilities of systems
  • Access, application, awareness, actors, atmosphere (context)

AN AFFILIATE OF THE GEORGIA RESEARCH ALLIANCE

context
Context
  • Providing access to broadband Internet/digital divide mitigation rationale for deployment of these networks (Bar and Park, 2006)
  • Literature on municipal wireless initiatives indicates a lack of research on the needs of people with disabilities
  • Of the 52 million Americans with disabilities, about 25% own a computer vs. 66% of the non-disabled
  • 20% PWD have access to the Internet vs. 40% of the non-disabled
  • Wireless connectivity potentially expands opportunities especially for PWD by providing access to services and information which might otherwise be non-accessible
  • Systems can be designed to offer specialized information services in multiple formats for PWD, affording them greater opportunities for community participation

AN AFFILIATE OF THE GEORGIA RESEARCH ALLIANCE

context ii
Context II
  • People facing barriers to access and use of ICTs are educationally, economically, and politically disadvantaged (Hargittai 2003)
  • PWD are not only concerned about having, accessing, or using the technology, but also concerned about barriers to the content of the Internet and World Wide Web (DOC, 1999; Margolin, 1998)
  • Website access barriers for PWD result from design flaws, lack of awareness, and ad hoc accessibility implementation (Yu 2002)
  • Barriers faced by PWD exacerbated by multimedia, graphic-heavy nature of the web that cannot be read by screen readers unless remediated for content access (Heim, 2000)
  • Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires electronic and information technology developed for the federal government (including websites) be accessible for those with disabilities (Hackett, Parmanto and Zeng, 2005), but local barriers continue

AN AFFILIATE OF THE GEORGIA RESEARCH ALLIANCE

study design
Study Design
  • Survey conducted of a sample of 48 municipal wireless networks for general accessibility out of a population of 320 systems
  • Comparative analysis of 24 cities under Department of Justice Project Civic Access (PCA) agreements with 24 control cities
  • PCA initiative ensures that towns, cities, and counties are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by eliminating physical and communication barriers to people with disabilities. A number of municipalities have been found to be noncompliant with the ADA and have entered into agreements with the DOJ under this program as a means of amelioration
  • Study considered whether external policy instruments (i.e. Project Civic Access), can impact the accessibility of these networks

AN AFFILIATE OF THE GEORGIA RESEARCH ALLIANCE

study design ii
Study Design II
  • Survey conducted of a sample of 48 municipal wireless networks for general accessibility out of a population of 320 systems
  • Comparative analysis of 24 cities under Department of Justice Project Civic Access (PCA) agreements with 24 control cities
  • 142 localities entered into 153 agreements with the U.S. Department of Justice to make their programs, services, and facilities accessible to people with disabilities.
  • PCA initiative ensures that towns, cities, and counties are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act Title II(ADA) by eliminating physical and communication barriers to people with disabilities. A number of municipalities have been found to be noncompliant with the ADA and have entered into agreements with the DOJ under this program as a means of amelioration

AN AFFILIATE OF THE GEORGIA RESEARCH ALLIANCE

results
Results
  • The study largely composed of projects where the wireless network had already been implemented and was currently being used. 56.2% of the projects, were in the final phase of deployment
  • municipal project span a large range of city sizes

Table 1: Municipal project deployment phase

AN AFFILIATE OF THE GEORGIA RESEARCH ALLIANCE

results ii
Results II

Map Legend

City size is represented by these dot colors:

Very Large (VL) Large (L) Medium (M) Small (S) Very Small (VS):

Phase of deployment represented by color of text:

Status 3 Status 2 Status 1

PCA = bold text/ Non-PCA = un-bold text

AN AFFILIATE OF THE GEORGIA RESEARCH ALLIANCE

results iii
Results III
  • Accessibility determined by evaluating stated objectives/goals of the project to determine whether potential benefits for digital inclusion were mentioned
  • None of the projects explicitly mentioned or discussed people with disabilities as a community that could benefit from these networks
  • 18.8% of PCA projects were found to have substantial consideration of disadvantaged populations (“low-income”) compared to only 4.5% of non-PCA projects
  • 64% of PCA wireless projects provide detailed website information as compared to the 36% of non-PCA providing project details
  • Surprisingly, a larger percentage of PCA city websites failed to be accessible when compared to their non-PCA counterparts (accessibility checker -- WebXACT, developed by Watchfire)

AN AFFILIATE OF THE GEORGIA RESEARCH ALLIANCE

policy ramifications
Policy Ramifications
  • Policy in a broad sense extends beyond regulation, and legislation and to strategies and actions that impact the public
  • What is the most appropriate unit of analysis?
  • Location vs. stakeholder/coverage vs. molecule
  • Barriers:
    • Economic Barriers
    • Awareness/Proficiency
    • Technological Incompatibilities
  • Approaches:
    • Regulatory/Policy Interventions
    • Market Mechanisms
    • Outreach/Awareness

AN AFFILIATE OF THE GEORGIA RESEARCH ALLIANCE

policy ramifications ii
Policy Ramifications II
  • Municipal networks should assess their communities/populations that may experience barriers to the new technology and not just focus on income level/status as the sole evaluatory criteria
  • Unmet demand (market) for communication services/devices, can drive product/system/policy innovation
  • Policy interventions can accelerate process by providing incentives for collaborative activities, training initiatives, increased use of universal design, and device interoperability
  • Information sharing collaborations and partnerships can leverage resources of different groups, increase awareness of system/product possibilities, and help providers optimize accessible system/product design

AN AFFILIATE OF THE GEORGIA RESEARCH ALLIANCE

conclusions
Conclusions
  • Despite 17 years since the implementation of the ADA, 10 years after the enactment of Section 508, issues of accessibility for people with disabilities still remain in a number of areas
  • An accessibility policy mechanism (i.e. Project Civic Access), is positively associated with some awareness of requirements of disadvantaged populations
  • However, cities under accessibility compliance agreements not necessarily going beyond the specifics of the agreement
  • Community based municipal digital inclusion initiatives can ensure specialized accessibility for their members (focus on individual)
  • The question: “Bringing Us Together or Tearing Us Apart” focuses on a small aspect of problem, especially if no system (or content value) awareness exists

AN AFFILIATE OF THE GEORGIA RESEARCH ALLIANCE

wrap up
Wrap-up

Further information:

  • CACP: www.cacp.gatech.edu
  • WirelessRERC: www.wirelessrerc.org

The authors wish to acknowledge the research and editorial assistance of Nathan Moon, and the support provided by School of Communications and Theatre, Temple University

The research was funded in part by support from the Center for Advanced Communication Policy, Georgia Institute of Technology, and the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center for Wireless Technologies, sponsored by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), U.S. Department of Education under grant number H133E060061. The opinions contained in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. DOE or NIDRR.

AN AFFILIATE OF THE GEORGIA RESEARCH ALLIANCE

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