The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Computer and Internet Technologies: Effects On Well-Being for Young Adults With Physical Disabilities

Thursday, January 16, 2014: 3:30 PM
Marriott Riverwalk, Alamo Ballroom Salon F, 2nd Floor Elevator Level BR (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Leah Powell Cheatham, JD, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
Melissa Radey, PhD, Associate Professor, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
Purpose: For more than 35 million Americans with disabilities, recent decades heralded progress, greatest among them being the advent of the Internet, which reduces physical barriers to social interaction and thereby potentially improves quality of life of those with physical disabilities.  Research indicates, however, that the potential benefits of the Internet are not realized to the fullest by individuals with physical disabilities who are half as likely as their non-disabled peers to have computer and Internet access (Kaye, 2000). While implications of Internet use among adolescents and young adults have been heavily researched, little attention has been directed toward young adults with disabilities. Yet, a foundation has been laid for understanding implications of computer and Internet use among adults with disabilities, indicating positive effects such as improved health-related quality of life (Drainoni, 2004), personal relations (Obst & Stafurik, 2010), and social inclusion (Guo, Bricout, & Huang, 2005).  Using a nationally-representative sample of US youth, this study furthers understanding of how computer and Internet technologies influence the lives of young adults by (1) describing the rates of use and access to Internet and computer technologies among youth with and without disabilities and (2) examining the effects of use on measures of well-being among youth with and without disabilities.

Methods: This study uses the 2007 and 2008 panels of the National Longitudinal Study of Youth 97, a continuing longitudinal panel study of individuals born between 1980-1984.  A descriptive analysis of variables of interest – disability status, computer/Internet use – was conducted to examine the “digital divide” between those with and those without physical disabilities. Separate binary logistic regression models measured how disability status contributed to computer/Internet access, and dichotomous measures of well-being, productive activity, general health, life satisfaction, and depression.  We also consider moderating effects of age, race, gender, poverty and educational attainment.

Results: Descriptive analyses indicate that young adults with physical disabilities perceive access to the Internet and report accessing websites and computers at significantly lower rates than those without disabilities.  Additionally, males, those of color, with less education, and who live below 300% of the poverty level had lower odds of use than their more advantaged counterparts.  After controlling for computer/Internet use and other covariates, those with disabilities had significantly higher odds of experiencing depression, 44% lower odds of being engaged in productive activity, 41% lower odds of positively rating life satisfaction, and 40% lower odds of positively rating health compared to non-disabled peers.

Implications: A digital divide between young adults with and without disabilities suggests that, even within an age cohort whose use of the Internet surpasses that of any other age group, barriers to full participation in society are not overcome through technology.  Significantly lower well-being among young adults with physical disabilities coupled with significant positive associations between Internet use and well-being, in general, indicate that adolescents with physical disabilities deserve greater accessibility to computer and Internet technologies.  We conclude with implications for policy, social work research, and practice in light of recent funding cuts for educational technology.