July 26, 2021 – The Wireless RERC submitted comments to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) regarding their request for input on the draft Internet Use Survey. A 67-question survey that they anticipate adding to the November 2021 edition of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS). A focus of our comments was ensuring that interviewers conducting personal visits are properly equipped to communicate with people who have disabilities. Suggesting that the interviewers be prepared to offer accommodations. As it pertains to the accuracy of the NTIA’s estimated time, cost burden, and methodology for disseminating the survey, Wireless RERC comments indicated some concerns related to the distribution methodology. Specifically, the RERC asserted that NTIA and the Census Bureau provide an online option to complete the survey designed to work with screen reader technology for respondents who are blind or have low vision. As a counter to extensive in-person interviewing teams, the Wireless RERC proposed a “mail-in” and online option so that people with and without disabilities can engage with this survey without unnecessary exposure to others.
Regarding the quality and quantity of survey questions, the RERC shared that the survey tool should be designed to facilitate nuanced analyses along sociodemographic dimensions that include disability. To that end, the Wireless RERC also recommended that NTIA add questions that would facilitate increased understanding of the various types of technology people with disabilities use to access the Internet and its content—asserting that the resultant data could facilitate the development of broadband affordability and utilization strategies. The comments urged NTIA to ensure that survey questions be clear, concise, and provided in accessible formats and with appropriate disability access accommodations (e.g., ASL, captions). The comments concluded by noting how the suggested revisions will advance the quality content of the survey questions and aid researchers in producing improved filing recommendations. We underscored the importance of considering the accessibility and usability of internet services and the consequential inclusion of people with disabilities in the broader design of data collection that informs public policy. We contend that any national survey tool designed to gather data on the state of technology use in the USA should include questions regarding disability and accessibility. Gathering such data will allow for identifying barriers to internet use and technology adoption by people with disabilities, assisting organizations, manufacturers, developers, and policymakers in devising the appropriate strategies to create a more accessible and usable broadband environment.