Letter to the editor: President Biden’s COVID-19 relief plan could end up helping to solve a problem Americans with disabilities living in rural areas have been dealing with for years: the lack of job opportunities and the ability to improve their financial situation.
Some of the funding from the plan is being targeted for improving the overall internet service in the United States; the people affected in this group is considerable. A Federal Communications Commission 2019 report estimated that 21 million Americans do not have access to broadband internet, thus being denied the same opportunities as people living in areas where service is available. That number could be even higher, according to other reports.
During COVID-19, internet use has become essential for working at home to being used for medical appointments, which have benefited Americans with disabilities who often have difficulty leaving their homes. This extends work opportunities, which have been limited as compared to those for able-bodied individuals. For Americans with disabilities, especially those in rural areas, this can mean the difference in being in or getting out of poverty, getting off disability, and having a positive effect on the communities they live in.
In my role as the chief operating officer for National Telecommuting Institute (NTI@Home) — a nonprofit organization that helps Americans with disabilities find jobs in Massachusetts and 47 other states, including those in rural areas — I know the effect that having adequate broadband services is to providing job opportunities.
For more than 25 years, NTI@Home has seen the growth of remote work, which has been increased by COVID-19, and shows no signs of slowing down as more and more companies opt to go off-site with their employees. For Americans with disabilities, remote work is often their only opportunity to get back into the workforce and off disability.
Better internet service will allow companies to have the ability to expand their hiring practices to include Americans with disabilities in rural locations in remote employment opportunities.
Right now, there exists a “digital divide” between those who have adequate internet services and those who don’t. Now, it is up to the Biden administration to identify all the areas that are lacking and then make it accessible for everyone living there, so there is finally a level playing field for everyone online.
Alan Hubbard, Boston
The writer is the chief operating officer of the nonprofit National Telecommuting Institute.