1.6 The Digital Divide and Equality of Access

The digital divide and equality of access deal with the gap between those who have access to an IT system and those who do not. Financial reasons are often quoted as the cause of digital divides, but there can be many other reasons too, including a lack of training for the system, language issues, physical disabilities, or simply a lack of interest in using new technology.

Textbook exercise

Exercise 2.8

The OLPC Foundation's web site is the primary source of information on the OLPC / XO laptop projects.

Although I would not recommend using the pages directly, the Wikipedia pages on the OLPC and the XO-1 both have extensive lists of citations for further reading.
Updated: 2014-10-02
Accessiblity options

Computer accessibility for disabled users

Computer accessibility for disabled users is fundamentally tied to the equality of access social / ethical issue. The Disability and Access section of BBC Bitesize is a good introduction to this topic, covering appropriate input and output devices. Both Microsoft and Apple have sections on their web sites that detail the accessibility features in their hardware and software.

Speech recognition is a common technology for physically disabled users - HowStuffWorks explains the technology behind it. Recently an Indian teenager created a device to convert breath into speech, desired for users with severe speech difficulties.

BrowseAloud is acessibility software for children with dyslexia and other learning disabilities. It includes functions to make text reading easier, including text to speech and colour highlighting.

Speaks4Me is a system to help autistic children communicate. Invented by a father who could find no useful system for his autistic son, the software runs on mobile devices and has a touch interface.

Another development currently being worked on is the ability to control a computer use brainwaves. Computer That Reacts To Thought A Lifeline For Brain Injured (Science Daily) and Voice recognition software reads your brain waves (New Scientist) are a good introduction to this topic.

This BBC news article and video shows a Cambridge lab where they test how elderly people use technology - the results are startling and highlight that a digital divide can occur in many situations.

Finally, The Madtoe Strikes Again: Hands-free Graphic Design is an inspiring story of a young man who, despite having limited motor control, creates graphic designs. The page details the variety of hardware and software systems he uses to create his work.

The Education page contains details of hardware and software specifically designed for people with special educational needs.
Updated: 2014-10-02
Internet censorship

Exercise 14.1: Internet filtering, censorship, and surveillance

Reporters without Borders and the Open Network Initiative (ONI) both maintain up to date information about global Internet surveillance and censorship. In addition, the following articles are useful for stimulating conversation about types of appropriate and inappropriate content, and whether government control of the internet is appropriate. Increasingly search engines, social networks, and other web sites may also be asked to block access to certain content - either locally or globally. The news articles below provide examples of this type of filtering: The digital citizenship page covers some of the potential legal impacts of online behaviour.
Updated: 2015-07-27
Online government resources

Online government

www.gov.uk is the UK government's web portral, from where a lot of information and many services can be accessed. www.usa.gov is the US equivalent. Both sites are great examples of the type of functionality that online governments can offer.

Online government services can have many positive impacts, but equality of access is also a major issue. Warning over 'us and them' online services (BBC) discusses potential problems with the UK government's online service provision.

Several countries have web sites where citizens can create, sign, and send e-petitions to government, including the UK, the US, and Latvia. Typically petitions reaching a pre-requisite number of signatures are tabled for discussion in parliament.

The Australian Tourism Data Warehouse (ATDW) is a good example of how governments can provide useful information online - in this case, guidelines for businesses in the tourism industry to set up online businesses.
Updated: 2014-11-07
Web documentary


Web, by director Michael Kleiman, is a fantastic documentary film for ITGS classes. It takes a refreshing look at Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, with a clear, thoughtful, and detailed examination of the Internet's impact on society. The film focuses on Lidia, a young girl in the remote village of Palestina in the Peruvian Amazon, and the effect of the OLPC on her, her family, and her village.

I found that by focusing on one small village the film provides a much more intimate and detailed account of the effect on technology and will give ITGS students concrete examples that are great for discussion. As well as raising the obvious issues of Equality of Access, the film raises many issues related to Globalization and Cultural Diversity - in one scene Liana's class start their own Wikipedia page about their village, and in another Liana introduces her father to Google for the first time. The effect of introducing the Internet to this remote village - both positive and negative - is something that could be discussed in class for a long time afterwards.

Web is currently only available online. It can be purchased or rented, and there is also a free trailer available: Web (2014).

Updated: 2014-12-06
Internet Statistics

Internet Statistics

Internet World Stats is a good site for interesting and often surprising statistics about Internet access and use across the world. It includes pages on penetration rates, languages, and much more, which provide a useful background for study the digital divide and cultural diversity.

Other sites include statistics about the language of websites and device statistics which also make interesting reading.

It is easy to assume that many or most people have Internet access. However, this is far from the truth. According to a recent report in the Telegraph, more than half the world (57%) still do not have Internet access.

How Much of the World Has Regular Internet Access? is a UN report which reveals some interesting trends - including significant gaps between the percentage of women who have Internet access globally and the percentage of men. In some areas the difference is as high as 50%.

Even in more developed countries, there can still be a digital divide: the Pew Research Center claims 15% of Americans do not have Internet access - with age and lack of finance tending to be a barrier to uptake.

Of course, as with any statistics we should be careful to understand how, when, and by whom the measurements were made, as the Internet can evolve very quickly.

Updated: 2016-08-28
Internet Languages

Languages and the Internet

The cultural diversity that the Internet enables can have both positive and negative social and cultural impacts. The dominance of the English language can lead to equality of access issues for users who only speak other languages. Similarly, some organisations such as UNESCO fear that as English and Western culture in general dominate the Internet, older, less common languages and cultures may be pushed to the sidelines and eventually become extinct. Linguistic diversity and multilingualism on Internet discusses this possibility with clear examples.

A report by the UN, How Much of the World Has Regular Internet Access?, found that only 5% of the world's languages were represented online.

On the other hand, the Internet itself can also being used to protect and preserve languages. The Endangered Languages project is one example- its goal is to record samples of these languages for future generations.

Updated: 2016-08-28


These two videos from Computerphile highlight some of the problems software developers can encounter when trying to adapt their software for users in different parts of the world. The videos cover far more than simple language differences and there are a few surprises in here. This raises clear issues of globalization and cultural diversity, and could lead to an interesting discussion about how (non)-internationalized software affects equality of access.

Updated: 2015-05-25
Internet trends

State of the Internet: Internet visualisations

State of the Internet is an excellent page from Akamai features interactive charts to help students visualise Internet trends. Students can view a global map of Internet speeds (which holds a few surprises) and customize the graphs to show data and changes from which countries and time periods they want. The page also contains information about threats and security trends.

This is a great way of examining potential digital divides. A good ITGS lesson idea might be to have students discuss which areas of the world might have the fastest and slowest (or non-existent) Internet access, justify their assertions, and then use this tool to check their accuracy.

Updated: 2016-07-07