Roughly 40% of the world’s 7.1 billion inhabitants use the Internet today. Internet usage has exploded across the globe—in 1995, less than 1% of the population had an Internet connection. The first billion Internet users were reached in 2005, the second in 2010, and the third in 2014. The Internet has fundamentally reshaped how the world works, from news updates, health information, staying connected with friends and family, and even the workplace.
But what about the 60% of the world’s population that hasn’t fully integrated into the Internet society? Are they missing out, or are they enjoying life without constant digital interaction and interruption? A common criticism of the Internet Age is that while it promises better connectivity than ever, it actually promotes isolation, loneliness and withdrawal from society. In other words, the Internet has replaced quality interactions with quantity—people are more connected than ever, but nobody forms a lasting bond; interactions are fleeting.
The above argument offers an interesting interpretation of the nature of online interactions. Many individuals may agree with its logic at first glance, that staring at a screen all day instead of seeing what’s around you may make people feel alienated. But this dismisses the reality that the Internet has built a very real community all on its own.
Historically, a community was characterized by a group of individuals living in close proximity to each other and sharing common attitudes, interest and/or goals. Common characteristics emerged due to location—for example, residents of a factory town may have shared characteristics and interests through their work as a result of their location.
Today, however, the Internet has broken the barriers to community. Physical location is no longer the main determining factor of attitudes and goals. Instead, the Internet has allowed individuals to form relationships and communities on the basis of common interest and values alone.
This new system of interaction can benefit many. In particular, individuals with disabilities stand to gain the most from it. Disability is not determined by geography—anyone, from any location and background, can possess some form of disability. Prior to the Internet, individuals with disabilities were forced to integrate, if possible, into a community that they very often did not share the same interests or goals due to their limitations. Today, however, individuals with disabilities are able to form bonds and join communities via the web. The disabled now have a connective vehicle to unite their voices, find common interests and causes.
The Internet can be a tremendous resource for anyone, but those that can benefit the most from it are individuals with disabilities. That is why ensuring equal access to online content is crucial. The Internet is the primary vehicle of communication and voice for the disabled and, increasingly, the rest of the world.