By Carli Friedman, CQL Director of Research
The COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted the education system in the United States, with many schools closing and shifting to remote learning, which requires access to technology and the internet. Even as schools return to in-person learning, household technology access still plays an important role in modern education. Yet, many people with disabilities face technology disparities and are less likely to have access to computers and internet than people without disabilities.
For these reasons, the aim of this study was to explore parents with disabilities’ access to computers and internet for their children’s education during the pandemic. To do so, we analyzed United States Census Bureau data from 71,284 people. The data were weighted to mirror population demographics in the United States.
The majority of adults with disabilities said computers/digital devices (70.2%) and internet (65.6%) were always available during the pandemic for the children in their household for educational purposes. However, adults with disabilities were significantly less likely than adults without disabilities to report the availability of computers/digital devices and the internet for children in their households. For example, adults with disabilities were 2.7 times more likely than adults without disabilities to report internet services were not available in their homes.
Availability of Computer/Digital Device
Availability of Internet
There were also differences in technology availability among the disability community. Adults with visual disabilities, adults with hearing disabilities, adults with cognitive disabilities, men with disabilities, those from lower income households, and those with more children in their households were all less likely to have computers/digital devices than adults with disabilities who did not fall into these categories. Disability type, household income, and number of school-age children in the household also correlated people with disabilities’ internet access.
“This study’s findings reflect a growing interest in investigating the contours of how having a parent with a disability may impact access to the Internet and computers or devices for educational purposes for school-age children. While the COVID-19 pandemic forced many students into remote schooling, the growth of the educational technology industry indicates that use of educational technology will only increase… This study also demonstrated that overall, parents with disabilities have less access to household educational devices and Internet. This may impact K-12 learners and may be a factor to consider for family-school partnerships, community schooling, and wraparound service provision” (Owen et al., 2023).