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