To bring more attention to the issue of digital inclusion, The National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) organized the very first Digital Inclusion Day on May 13. As part of the day’s events, The NDIA assembled a virtual panel of thought leaders for an online conversation with a Twitter Town Hall.
As the experts discussed the impact digital access and skills can have on society, families and individuals, many exciting ideas and lessons emerged.
To inspire your community’s work on addressing digital inclusion, here are ten of the top insights shared by the #digitalinclusion Twitter Town Hall participants:
1. Access is necessary, but it isn’t everything
To begin to solve a problem as big as digital inclusion, first you need to understand the causes. Yup, that’s “causes,” plural. There’s more than one obstacle keeping people from taking advantage of all the opportunities the internet can deliver. Often, conversations about digital inclusion focus on making sure everyone has a connection to the internet. Emy Tseng, policy specialist at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) pointed out, it’s also an issue of quality:
A1: It's not just a question of access but type, speed, continuity of service #digitalinclusion
— Emy Tseng (@EmyTseng) May 13, 2016
2. Digital inclusion is inseparable from equity
If we allow digital disparities to increase, we’ll probably amplify other problems, like economic inequality. Yet, broader social issues like economic inequality contribute to digital disparity. Marianne Alicona, director of development at Byte Back, a nonprofit that puts technology within reach for people in the D.C. area, put it in perspective:
A2: Do you pay for a mobile plan or putting food on the family table. There is not a level playing field. #digitalinclusion
— Marianne Alicona (@malicona1) May 13, 2016
3. Support in learning can overcome a steep digital learning curve
Thankfully, no one is born connected into the internet (though if you’re prone to dystopian speculation, it’s you might suspect that Google and Facebook are already working on this). Even if they were, like learning to walk and talk, they’d still need to be shown how to use technology in effective ways. The Impact Survey, a community benefit assessment tool for libraries, pointed out that successful digital inclusion efforts must including ample learning opportunities—and people to provide them:
A3: Not only libraries, but librarians are important in rural communities. Can't learn to use tech w/o guide. #digitalinclusion
— Impact Survey (@impactsurvey) May 13, 2016
4. The first step is not always the hardest
If you’ve ever shown someone how to use email, search for answers on Google, or apply for jobs online (What? You haven’t? Go volunteer at a local computer literacy nonprofit!), you know the first experience isn’t necessarily the hardest. The biggest challenge can be helping gain confidence so they’ll use technology again and again. Social Rise, which helps people in D.C. learn to use social media, reinforced this important idea:
A4: Digital inclusion is access, literacy and comfort. Not only getting people online but helping them stay online. #digitalinclusion
— Social Rise (@socrise) May 13, 2016
5. Libraries are really, really important
Libraries have long been one of the most important equalizers in access to information and opportunity. Today, public libraries are transforming so they can get even better at providing internet access, learning opportunities, and hands-on experiences with digital devices. Jim Tobias, owner of Inclusive Technologies, which provides consulting on developing accessible and usable products, emphasized why libraries are more essential than ever:
A5 libraries are the *perfect* community org for #digitalinclusion ; some places they're the only one
— Jim Tobias (@inclutech) May 13, 2016
6. Digital inclusion can deliver surprising benefits
The cost of devices like laptops and mobile phones can keep people from getting online. At the same time, discarded electronic devices, which are a toxic environmental and health hazard, are now the fastest-growing waste stream in the world. Michael Liimatta, manager of ConnectHome, a White House and HUD digital divide initiative, mentioned that there’s an opportunity to divert some these devices out of the overflowing e-waste stream and into the hands of people:
A6: We need a "Reuse Before You Recycle" campaign. It's actually better for the environment and advances #digitalinclusion
— Michael Liimatta (@mliimatta) May 13, 2016
7. The public sector can’t conquer digital inclusion alone
A multitude of barriers to digital inclusion requires an array of solutions—and problem solvers. Everyone must work together to make sure everyone is included in our increasingly digital society. Deb Socia, executive director of Next Century Cities, which helps communities improve local internet access, drove this point home:
A7: We ALL own this problem – need to work together: gov't, nonprofit, NGO, provider, tech co, faith based org… #digitalinclusion
— Deb Socia (@dsocia) May 13, 2016
8. Inclusion puts people first, technology second
For digital inclusion efforts to be truly inclusive, people must be prioritized from start to finish. This means involving individuals, local communities, and partners at beginning and then working together throughout the process. The Citizens’ Utility Board of Oregon, which protects the interests of residential utility customers, provided a succinct guide for how to get started with a people-first approach:
A8: Meet folks where they are: In-person + culturally competent training. #digitalinclusion
— CitizensUtilityBoard (@OregonCUB) May 13, 2016
9. Digital inclusion means meeting a wide variety of needs
Often, technology accessibility initiatives for people with disabilities will focus on visual, hearing, and physical needs. However, Iyana Turner, program associate at Byte Back, reminded us that accessibility comes in other forms:
A9 Not all disabilities are VISUAL; program staffs should bear in mind the the emotional well-being of those they help #digitalinclusion
— Iyana Turner (@IzzyProbably) May 13, 2016
10. Momentum is building for digital inclusion
Over the last few years, digital inclusion has been a growing federal priority, but there’s no telling what the future may bring. Megan Keane, membership director of NTEN, which helps nonprofits use technology more effectively, put forward this compelling request of the next President, whoever it may be:
A10: Recognize that #digitalinclusion can be as crucial as a basic need like water as tech is overlay over basic services.
— Megan Keane (@penguinasana) May 13, 2016
Digital inclusion in your community
There were a lot of other ideas shared with the #digitalinclusion hashtag and during other Digital Inclusion Day activities. Which of those insights and actions inspire you? What ideas do you have for advancing digital inclusion in your community? Share them in the comments.
And, be sure to join Digital Inclusion Day in 2017.
Lauren Girardin is a marketing and communications consultant, writer, and speaker based in San Francisco. She helps organizations engage their communities and tell their stories. Her website is laurengirardin.com and you can connect with her on Twitter at @girardinl.