The Promise of Municipal WiFi and Failed Policies of Inclusion: the Disability Divide

Date of Publication: 
2009 April

Wireless technologies, especially those deployed by municipalities, have been offered as one way to enhance access to society at large, including people with disabilities and others on the wrong side of the digital divide. One of the promises of municipal WiFi, is free or low-cost service promised in the public interest of citizens. This paper presents research on the current state of municipal wireless network design and policies with regard to people with disabilities in the United States. A comparative analysis was undertaken of a sample of 48 municipalities to ascertain the degree of accessibility to, or sensitivity of, municipal wireless systems, and three case studies were examined for the unforeseen effects of deploying municipal WiFi in different locations. Secondly, the effectiveness of goals toward eradicating the "disability divide" are analyzed to see if policies toward people with disabilities fair well as systems are deployed, and we discuss legal implications of municipal WiFi models. Because many people with disabilities are already affected by disparities in education and income, further marginalization of their communication and information access creates a greater barrier to their access to critical information needs, and participation in a community.


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