When talking about digital justice, it can be difficult to see how it relates to all groups, not just those most in need. To achieve true digital access, society as a whole has to step forward and work together. We must actively seek out ways to replace the exclusive with the inclusive--how can we work to welcome all members of our community into the world of digital access?
Here are some ways you can help:
1. Change the conversation to focus on the agents of change from individuals who are being left behind to the larger community which would choose to leave its members behind. The digital divide promotes a simplistic model of have and have nots, when what we need to be looking at is why it is important for a society to include all its members when adopting a new way of conducting business, living one’s life and carrying out day-to-day necessities such as accessing medical and health care, housing and shelter, food, hygiene and technology. Make the question, “How do we include everyone?” not, “What can we do for the ones who don’t have what we say they should have?”
2. Fund and support public access computing centers: Many digital inclusion organizations maintain public access computing facilities that allow community members to access technology in places in which they feel comfortable and supported. These spaces also complement the digital literacy classes that are often offered in the same location. Low-income individuals and families value public access computing centers because they are often in convenient locations and have helpful staff who provide them with one-on-one support with computers and broadband Internet access. St. Anthony’s TECH LAB is one such example,
and there are others throughout the City.
3. Provide low- or no-cost broadband: Cost continues to be a major barrier to broadband adoption. Successful interventions need to address “ability to pay” rather than “willingness to pay.” While most low-income individuals and families understand the value of broadband connectivity, the cost remains the most significant barrier to adoption. Successful digital inclusion efforts should recognize the role that persistent poverty plays in shaping people’s abilities to access and use computers and the Internet.
4. Fund and support digital literacy training: There are many service providers in San Francisco that offer digital literacy classes, workshops and resources assisting those who do not feel the Internet is relevant to them as well as those who already understand the importance of the Internet to their everyday lives.
5. Make low-cost computers available: Low-cost or free computers are often just as important as having access to low-cost or free Internet options, particularly for people in low-income communities. Digital inclusion organizations have embraced this reality by refurbishing older computers and making them available to low-income people for free or at a reduced cost. Some digital inclusion organizations also provide ongoing technical support to residents who need the social and technical assistance to keep their computers up and running—and connected online—over time.
6. Be a part of one person’s journey towards digital literacy and engagement. Check out organizations like Community Technology Network (http://ctnbayarea.org/) in San Francisco. Consider volunteering your time to help a senior, a family, a parent, a child, an organization. Your actions will make a difference.
Julie Berlin manages the Tenderloin Technology Lab at St. Anthony’s in San Francisco, a free public access computing center in the heart of the City’s Tenderloin neighborhood. The Tech Lab offers free drop-in access to 40+ computers, beginning and intermediate classes, tutoring and access to a fax, phone, copier/printer/scanner, as well as professional staff and volunteers ready to help guests define and progress towards their goals using technology.
To learn more about evidence-based essentials of digital inclusion, read this article: https://www.benton.org/blog/four-essentials-digital-inclusion.
To learn about digital inclusion efforts at an exciting national level, check out the very impactful work of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance here: http://www.digitalinclusionalliance.org