Accessibility, Availability and Affordability

Of these three, which is the largest obstacle to the free and open flow of online information?

Consider the following:

  1. A 12-year old boy in Western Africa has learned how to read Braille. He has also recently received an inexpensive laptop as part of a corporate initiative to save the world with cheap computers. Unfortunately, he is unable to access the information on his own because he was born blind and the computer did not come with any software that can read the content of web pages.
  2. In rural Idaho a high school student has an inexplicable desire to “make websites”. There are no technology classes at her school, but a teacher allows her to use a school computer during the last part of lunch to practice her craft. She has found a couple of online communities that the school filter allows where she is able to find answers to many of her questions. After school she has a 50 minute bus ride to a small home at the bottom of a hill bordering a National Forest in Central Idaho. Her family does have an older computer, but they haven’t been able to find local Internet service provider.
  3. A young woman in Albania constantly hears her friends talk about people that they have met online. She found a job at a local byrek stand where she earns enough money to accompany her friends to a local Internet Cafe to participate in their online activities. However, her father recently lost his job because of illness and her family expects her to contribute all of her earnings to the family pot. She occasionally gets a few minutes to check her email by tagging along with her friends, but by and large she no longer able to use the Internet.

Each of the above problems might be overcome with some combination of technology, awareness or money. However, each situation does present a problem of accessibility, availability or affordability that might be generalized to include a larger number of people.

Which of these is the most significant obstacle to ubiquitous, affordable technology to allow everyone to connect to this vast collection of tubes that we call the Internet?

What other obstacles keep people from accessing the Internet?

4 comments

  1. Scott Rains

    Christopher,

    Three difficult choices and I can’t say that I could fairly prioritize them but I did want to welcome you back to blogging regularly. I look forward to reading your insights.

    Scott

  2. Christopher Phillips

    Thanks for stopping by again Scott- it’s good to see a familiar name. I suppose you can’t really prioritize which of the three is most important in general, although each is worth considering when looking at specific situations where access is a problem.

  3. Dave

    I run into many people who are forced to use technology by their job, but have no interest or previous training and end up dragging their feet the whole way. Can motivation be an obstacle? Or am I being pretentious to assume that everyone can benefit from using the Internet? : )

    There are also people in situations similar to #2, except they don’t have training resources available. Maybe they’ve obtained computer and Internet access, but they don’t know about search engines or the concept of distinct web sites vs. the Internet as a whole and have no understanding of how any of it really works. They may or may not know how to find out more about these things, or even that these kinds of concepts and issues exist. There’s a lot of room for variation here, some people have a really difficult time wrapping their minds around the very logical way that computers work…the training issue almost comes back around to an accessibility issue at that point.

  4. Guy Davies

    I would have to agree with Scott (Hi Scott!) in that it is impossible to prioritise the three different examples

    But in example 1, I would think that is the exception; the vast majority of Africans (disabled or not) would probably never have access to a computer, let alone web access. The current thinking in Africa is that mobile phones will probably be the most common route for people in rural Africa to use to access the internet. that brings some new issues as few phones are accessible, an for basic functions, let alone wet browsing. I am not aware of a stable, affordable accessible web browser that can operate on the typical mobile phone operating systems. Many of the usual phones are only basic entry level.

    I can certainly imagine easier solutions to the second 2 examples.