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US Politics: Bush to Dismantle Digital Divide Projects

From: Kynn Bartlett <kynn@idyllmtn.com>
Date: Thu, 30 May 2002 14:36:18 -0700
Message-Id: <a05101007b91c3bb024d8@[10.0.1.7]>
To: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org

Hi, friends.  This is about American politics and economics, so if you're
not concerned about those, skip this message.  This is specifically
about the Bush administration's moves to dismantle several key
federal programs aimed at "closing the gap" in the Digital Divide.

While much of the attention on the Digital Divide has been focused on
the inequity of Internet and computer access between poor Americans and
rich Americans -- which will only grow under the Bush proposal -- there
are also serious implications for access by users with disabilities.
That's what I'm going to address here.

This issue was brought to my attention by an Associated Press article,
"Bush Criticized on Digital Divide" [1], about a report released by the
Consumers Union, the Consumer Federation of America, and the Civil
Rights Forum. The report [2] states,

      A close look at the data shows that the perception that the
      digital divide has disappeared is simply wrong. Consequently,
      the claim that we no longer need policies to close the gap
      is wrong, placing tens of millions of American households at
      risks of being left out of the digital information age.

The report does not directly address the needs of Americans with
disabilities, but does state:

      The Technologies Opportunities Program (TOP) at [the U.S.
      Department of] Commerce and the Community Technology Center
      initiative (at [the Department of] Education) are slated for
      elimination in the 2003 budget.

The excuse for these cutbacks, according to the Washington Post on
February 5, 2002 [3], is -- of course -- a post-9/11 rush to cut social
programs while increasing military expenditures.  Post reporter
Jonathan Krim writes:

      Michael Gallagher, deputy director of the National
      Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)
      said that the federal Technology Opportunities Program
      had "fulfilled its mission" and that in a time of national
      crisis, resources need to be devoted to national defense
      and other pressing priorities.

      [...]

      The Bush administration has been quietly scaling back
      support for such programs since before the Sept. 11 terrorist
      attacks, according to sources close to the NTIA, an arm of the
      Commerce Department that serves as the technology adviser to
      the president.

The benefit of projects such as the Technologies Opportunities Program
on people with disabilities is documented on the web site of the
International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet
[4]. The ICDRI site's September 21, 2000 listing of "Public and
Private Initiatives to Create Digital Opportunities for People With
Disabilities" [5] includes:

      The Department of Education will award a $2 million grant to
      the "America Connects Consortium" to help create, improve and
      sustain Community Technology Centers through technical
      assistance. These centers provide access to technology and the
      skills needed to use it, typically tolow-income families that
      do not have computers and Internet access. One of the consortium
      partners, the Alliance for Technology Access, will help the
      centers ensure that they are accessible to people with disabilities
      and are meeting their needs. [...]

      The National Telecommunications and Information Administration's
      Technologies Opportunities Program will provide a grant to
      the Pangea Foundation, based in San Diego, California. The
      foundation will create Web-based templates that will make it
      easy for organizations to enter information in a format that
      is accessible to people with disabilities. People with
      disabilities will be able to find information on local
      services through a central clearinghouse on the Web in a format
      they can use. The Adminstration has proposed tripling the budget
      for the Technology Opportunities Program from $15 million to
      $45 million so that the government can support creative uses
      of information technology for underserved communities.

Note that the current Bush administration plans are to reduce the
budget to zero. We are being told that only "pressing priorities"
such as a huge military build-up -- which will primarily benefit only
the defense industry and other rich Republican supporters -- will be
filled in this "time of national crisis," while issues such as equal
access by the poor, the elderly, and the disabled to increasingly
essential technological resources are left behind.

Now, more than ever, the Internet is proving itself a vital and
necessary part of American life, as financial services, government
services, and news are available online, but only to the select
elite who have access. Meanwhile, we are pursuing domestic and
foreign policies designed to make the rich even richer, and claiming
it's necessary because of a "state of war" that may have been
avoidable, had the government not been asleep at the switch in
the summer of 2001.

Last year we were told that the terrorists want to "destroy our way
of life," and therefore we shouldn't stop spending money on what
we consider to be important -- or else the terrorists have already
won. Now we see that only applies to the citizens, and not the
government; now we see that it means sacrificing the futures of
our poor, our elderly and our disabled who may be permanently
left behind in the mad rush to cut programs to fund the war
machine.

What can you do?  Simple -- don't let them get away with it.  Write
to your congressman and senator, and let them know that before they
approve spending to enrich the wealthy, you want them to continue
to work to make the tools of 21st Century democracy available to
all Americans.  Write to the White House and tell them that you
don't believe that national security means preventing disabled
students and elderly poor from participating in the Internet. Look
at the ICDRI site -- especially Cynthia Waddell's writings about
the Web accessibility digital divide [6] -- and remind others that
the gap isn't closed, not by a longshot.

--Kynn Bartlett
   kynn@idyllmtn.com

Permission is granted to distribute this message to all appropriate
forums.  A permanent copy is available on the Web at
http://kynn.com/politics/divide/.

References:

[1] 
http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ap/20020530/ap_on_hi_te/digital_divide_7

[2] http://www.consumerfed.org/DigitalDivideReport20020530.pdf
     Unfortunately, this appears to be available only as an Adobe
     Acrobat file. Please write to the Consumer Federation of America
     and request an accessible HTML version!

[3] A copy of this article is available at
     http://kynn.com/politics/divide/washpost.php

[4] http://www.icdri.org/digital_divide_summary_page.htm
     The ICDRI home page is http://www.icdri.org/, of course.

[5] http://www.icdri.org/public_and_private_initiatives_t.htm

[6] http://www.icdri.org/the_digital_divide.htm
     Cynthia Waddell's writings are at
     http://www.icdri.org/cynthia_waddell.htm

-- 
Kynn Bartlett <kynn@idyllmtn.com>                 http://kynn.com
Chief Technologist, Idyll Mountain            http://idyllmtn.com
Next Book: Teach Yourself CSS in 24       http://cssin24hours.com
Kynn on Web Accessibility ->>          http://kynn.com/+sitepoint
Received on Thursday, 30 May 2002 18:20:47 GMT

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