On September 10, Comcast announced a series of initiatives designed to help address the digital divide for low-income Americans with disabilities through the Internet Essentials program, the nation’s largest and most comprehensive Internet adoption program for low-income households. The largest of these was a grant from the Company to the American Association for People with Disabilities (AAPD).  

The AAPD will use this Comcast grant to create and deliver digital literacy training programs specifically designed to address the needs of low-income people in the disability community. Once developed, the programs will be provided at 10 AAPD affiliates across the country, as well as shared online for anyone to access. 

“The Internet is an incredible resource so long as you have the skills and the tools to use it,” said David L. Cohen, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Comcast Corporation. “By partnering with AAPD and working with the disability community, we want to address and break down the barriers to broadband adoption that are unique to this population. The first step is to address digital literacy issues and facilitate digital skills development. So, we’re going to create relevant training programs and then fund their delivery at locations across the country.”

In 2017, the Pew Research Center reported that Americans with disabilities are much less likely to use the internet than their non-disabled counterparts. According to the analysis, 23% of disabled respondents said they “never” went online, as opposed to 8% of the non-disabled participants. 

The reason for this statistic is two-fold. Schools often fail to teach students with disabilities technology literacy. Then, adults with disabilities live in poverty at high rates, thus not being able to afford electronic devices, let alone an internet broadband subscription.

The disability community is the only group in which segregated education is allowed and legal. While non-disabled students are learning computer skills and coding in schools today, disabled students are left in the dark ages. Teaching students with disabilities how to use technology may come with adaptions and accommodations, and public schools across the nation often don’t have to funds to access assistive technology.

When these students enter adulthood, they face another challenge: employment. People with disabilities are more than twice as likely to be unemployed than their non-disabled peers, thus more likely to live in poverty as well. The statistics are worse for people with disabilities who belong in other marginalized groups, such as the elderly, LGBQT+ community and people of color.

The AAPD and Comcast will work together to give internet access and education to thousands of low-income Americans with disabilities across the country. Internet Essentials has an integrated, wrap-around design that addresses each of the three significant barriers to broadband adoption that research has identified. These include a lack of digital literacy skills, lack of awareness of the relevance of the Internet to everyday life needs, and fear of the Internet; the absence of a computer; and cost of internet service. The program is structured as a partnership between Comcast and tens of thousands of school districts, libraries, elected officials, and nonprofit community partners. 

“Having an internet connection at home is absolutely vital for low-income people living with disabilities,” said Maria Town, President and CEO of the AAPD. “I commend Comcast for extending its Internet Essentials program to people with disabilities because it will help us advance our mission to provide equal access, integration, and full inclusion for Americans with disabilities.”

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