The State of Tech: Technology Access in Ohio

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In America today, millions of people are navigating a digital world that wasn’t designed with them in mind. Advancements in technology present unique challenges and opportunities for people with developmental disabilities, and accessibility can determine their ability to participate socially and communicate day to day.

In 2016, the Pew Research Center conducted surveys to get a broad look at Americans with disabilities in the digital age. They found that Americans with disabilities are almost three times as likely as those without a disability to say they never go online, and they are about 30% less likely to report using the internet on a daily basis.  Even younger adults with a disability are less likely to report using internet-connected technology.

Some assistive technologies are made with disabilities in mind, including remote supports such as sensors and cameras to facilitate independent living. Still, daily communication mostly requires mainstream, off-the-shelf technologies such as cell phones, tablets and laptops, which were not designed specifically for people with disabilities. Without broadband availability, funding and educational efforts, external factors may continue to encourage disparities in digital participation.

Ohio and the Digital Divide

In the state of Ohio, significant efforts are being made to tackle the digital divide between those who have a disability and those who don’t. The Ohio State University Nisonger Center, through a grant from the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities (DODD), concluded a statewide project in June 2019 to expand the use of remote supports (formerly known as remote monitoring).

Although the focus was to increase the use of remote supports in every county in Ohio, the activities of the grant also opened an overall discussion of technology and the digital divide. This led to mini-grants being awarded to nearly half of Ohio’s counties to support ways for county boards of developmental disabilities to increase the knowledge about technology supports to the people they serve.

Additionally, on May 24, 2018, former Governor John Kasich signed the Technology First Executive Order, an initiative to expand access to technology for people with developmental disabilities. The purpose of the order is to support individuals with disabilities and help them learn what technology can do to increase their power to act and communicate.

A Technology First Council was convened and completed its work in December 2018, providing a final report of state policy recommendations to encourage people with developmental disabilities to use and access assistive/supportive technology to live independently and safely in the community.

“I think there’s a greater awareness among many people who are in the developmental disabilities area,” said Jan Rogers, the program director of assistive technology and accessible education materials at the Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence (OCALI). “There’s been a great awareness campaign. There’s been some opportunities to change funding processes, to make funding more available for technologies, so that’s been a great support. I think there have been more active projects that are going on around technologies within the county board programs too. In all, there’s been some really nice changes in terms of bringing that general awareness to people and then providing resources to help them develop technology supports.”

Around the state, needs vary. Like the individuals they serve, county boards of developmental disabilities around Ohio face different circumstances. Trends in technology use and communication strategies were more similar from county-to-county. Many county boards say they use email, Facebook and an accessible website to engage with the people they serve. Most also noted the prevalence of similar devices among their communities, such as the Amazon Echo and Apple products. Differences emerge, however, when considering the challenges counties face.

“Internet access, especially in Coshocton is bad,” said Steve Oster, the superintendent of the Knox and Coshocton County Boards of Developmental Disabilities. “There are places I drive that my phone calls drop, and there are people who don’t have any internet service in the house at all. So, that makes it difficult sometimes.”

In the state’s larger, more urban counties, including Franklin and Hamilton, boards report education and finances as the greatest barriers to increasing access. More rural and mid-sized counties, such as Knox, Coshocton and Trumbull, encounter those issues and others, including access to broadband, vendors and technology lending programs.

In addressing the digital divide, progress has been made statewide. But according to Rogers and others in the field, there remains more work to be done.

“I think we’ve made a nice step towards the awareness portion of things, but I think it now becomes, let’s get in there and start doing some of the implementation,” said Rogers. “We do have some bright spots in the state to replicate, so [we’re] just trying to leverage the power of bringing people together and making communities of practice so they feel supported.”

Bridging the Digital Divide

When Governor DeWine began his term in January 2019, he established a statewide initiative called InnovateOhio, led by Ohio's Lt. Governor Jon Husted. The mission of InnovateOhio is to use technology in government to improve services, reduce cost, and spur a culture of innovation in Ohio. InnovateOhio is currently asking for suggestions on what needs to be done in Ohio to improve access to technology-related services.

Take Action! Do you have an idea of how Ohio can better use technology or implement a new, innovative way of doing things that can improve services to Ohioans and save taxpayer money? Go to the InnovateOhio website with your suggestions.

Connected Nation Ohio, an organization leading an effort to increase high-speed internet access, adoption, and use of technology, brings promise to addressing the broadband access issue in Ohio. On July 29, 2019, Connected Nation Ohio announced that the next phase in connecting Ohioans to broadband access will begin in late 2019. According to a press release from the organization, "We are laser-focused on identifying exactly where the Digital Divide sits in Ohio and the challenges and solutions to closing it. As we begin our work anew, we invite all Ohioans to visit our website and join the conversation by providing both feedback and input on the state of broadband in your area."

Take Action! Ohioans with developmental disabilities are encouraged to provide input about their experiences with and their needs for internet access on the Connected Nation Ohio website.

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About this Article

"The State of Tech: Technology Access in Ohio" is the first in a four-part series that aims to educate and inform people about the impact of technology advances and the digital divide for Ohioans with developmental disabilities. This article was published in July 2019.

Clay Voytek of O'Neill Communications wrote the articles for this series. O'Neill Communications is the Ohio DD Council's Public Awareness grantee. The articles in this series were funded by the Ohio Developmental Disabilities Council under the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act.

For more information about the series, including links to all articles, go to The State of Tech.