May 2007

Document Type


Degree Name



Dept. of Medical Informatics and Clinical Epidemiology


Oregon Health & Science University


As the amount of health information on the Internet and its increased availability grows at a rapid rate, it is important to ensure that all groups within society have access to and make use of this growing resource. This increase in health information online has been mirrored by the increasing use of this resource in addition to more traditional methods of retrieving health information. This phenomenon has been noted by many reported studies and reports. However, how frequently this resource has been used by people with visual impairment and their experiences when using the Internet and when searching for health information online has not been previously reported. This research sought to remedy this gap in knowledge and detail the experiences of searching for health information by people with the visual impairment within the state of Oregon. Twenty-eight semi-structured interviews were performed with individuals with some form of visual impairment between May and August 2006. Fourteen of the interviews were performed on individuals living in areas classified as suburban/urban areas and the other fourteen on individuals living in rural areas. The interviews were performed with the intention of determining how people with visual impairment currently obtain their health information, whether they feel their health education needs are being met by the information on the Internet, what type of information they seek on the Internet and what websites they access, whether they feel this information is accessible to them and what barriers and obstacles they encounter, and identifying any variations between the Internet health information use and characteristics of rural participants compared to suburban/urban participants. The results from the study showed that the respondents within the study were using the Internet as a resource for health information at a rate that is comparable with previous research on the general population. This result underlines how valuable and empowering a resource the Internet can be for people with visual impairment. This was demonstrated within the study as the respondents reported on the amount of printed health information they had been previously given and how frustrating it had been for the participants. The Internet, while certainly not perfect, was shown to potentially provide the freedom for people with visual impairment to access identical health resources to the rest of the population which should be the aim of any country. The main barrier noted by the respondents was that of inaccessible websites. This is a major problem as certain types of websites and formats used within websites make navigation and use of a screen reader, at best frustrating and time-consuming, and at worst impossible. There is governance currently within the United States concerned with the accessibility of websites for people with disabilities, but unfortunately this is only currently enforced on companies with government contracts. The solution to the problem would be to enforce this governance on all health websites which purport to give out health information, although this solution is unlikely to happen in the near future.




School of Medicine



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