Tag: digital divide

In May 2015, NTEN and Google Fiber launched the Digital Inclusion Fellowship, a new national program investing in local communities and nonprofit organizations to address the digital divide. Sixteen Fellows comprised the first cohort, and they have shared their work with us. We asked Adam Strizich to give us an update on his work with the Martha O’Bryan Center (MOBC).

What advice would you have for the second cohort of Fellows?

Being a Digital Inclusion Fellow is about listening to the stories of everyday people struggling to participate in our technology-reliant society and finding ways to empower these people to amplify their voice. It’s also about unpacking the state of the digital divide and researching the myriad digital inclusion initiatives sweeping across the country right now, to cherry-pick the most fertile program solutions for each unique community.

At times, the responsibility of being a Fellow can be a bit overwhelming. My advice for the second cohort is to focus on building genuine relationships within the community you serve and to be patient. It takes time and authentic commitment to develop the trust that’s necessary to inspire meaningful community engagement. I always try to remind myself that my role as a Fellow is not to be the flame of the digital inclusion movement in Nashville. My role is to spark the flame that represents a collaborative community effort to be a digitally inclusive city.

When you think of what your community has accomplished this year, what are you most proud of?

Successful digital inclusion initiatives require exemplary teamwork. Since the first ConnectHome convening in November of 2015, the people of Nashville have shown a remarkable commitment to working together. Not only have a majority of anchor institutions in Nashville played a role in the delivery of ConnectHome, there has been an outpouring of volunteers from across the city helping to teach ConnectHome computer classes.

Overall, I am most proud of the way in which Cayce Place residents have responded to the effort.  At our big tech fair kickoff for ConnectHome, 15 residents signed up to volunteer to help with ConnectHome, and 12 have committed to being ConnectHome Community Ambassadors.  ConnectHome Community Ambassadors are volunteering their time to help recruit eligible families to be part of the ConnectHome program, teach computer classes, and bring awareness to the services offered by the neighborhood computer lab.

What is something that you have struggled with and overcome/learned from?

Martha O’Bryan Center (MOBC) is one of the largest nonprofit organizations in Nashville, with a history of providing a holistic continuum of cradle-to-career services. The challenges facing the community we serve are totally staggering: more than 30% unemployment, food insecurity, daily violence, systemic oppression, and extreme isolation. In my first few months as a Fellow, it was extremely hard for me to advocate for digital inclusion programming because I felt like I was trying to overshadow many of the other well-established programs that have strong reputations of meeting historical needs of the community MOBC serves.

In time, I realized that digital inclusion programming goes hand-in-hand with all of the other services at Martha O’Bryan Center. In fact, every program across MOBC does digital inclusion work in one capacity or another. The problem seems to be that there are no guidelines for how digital inclusion programming should be delivered because the programming itself is relatively uncharted territory for many nonprofits.

Digital inclusion—and more specifically digital literacy—is sewn into the fabric of almost every program of every nonprofit. I believe all nonprofits should be asking themselves: Is our process of integrating digital literacy into programming passive or active?  The reality is that the 21st century has arrived. The future is here. Any community organization seeking to serve to the best of its ability must actively integrate digital inclusion programming into their services because of the power of tech to confer independence.

What were you surprised by in your digital inclusion work?

I grew up as a doctor’s son in Helena, Montana. To say that I was privileged is an understatement. And yet, I never really understood how good I had it until after graduating from Seattle University and participating in a volunteer service program called Jesuit Volunteer Corp.  I spent a year working as a caretaker for individuals with profound developmental disabilities and a year providing support for individuals experiencing homelessness. I became intimately aware of my privilege in short order. I’ve come to realize only this year that my digital know-how is easily the most underrated aspect of my privilege. As a Fellow, I’ve learned that the digital divide doesn’t just extend to people in poverty. It includes successful, well-established professionals ranging from experienced social workers to CEOs. The societal stigma associated with digital ineptitude is intense. The reality is that there just aren’t enough resources out there to provide for the multitude of aging adults that desperately need access to high quality, universally-accepting spaces of digital learning.

How can you see yourself applying what you have learned to your future endeavors?

As a proud social justice advocate, my experience as a Fellow has been nothing short of ideal.  I’ve had the great pleasure of working alongside a cohort of incredibly bright and motivated Fellows. I got the chance to collaborate with a number of anchor institutions throughout Nashville to deliver the first pilot of ConnectHome. I participated in some really unique and valuable educational opportunities. I’ve had the autonomy to develop, implement, and modify programming that best serves the needs of the Cayce Place community with continued input from residents. And most recently, through teaching computer classes, I’ve discovered a genuine passion for the art of teaching.

I’m absolutely thrilled to continue to use my newfound gifts to empower others to realize their human potential.

About the photo: Ray McKay is a lifelong resident of Cayce Place and an emerging leader in the neighborhoods’ digital inclusion efforts. Ray has been a committed and reliable volunteer in Martha O’Bryan Center’s Digital Empowerment Lab (DEL) for the past few months.  DEL strives to provide neighborhood residents with the digital literacy skills necessary for educational success, professional development, and civic participation.  And as a volunteer lab instructor, Ray has helped fellow community members earn computer literacy certificates, apply for jobs, connect with friends and family using social media, and find creative ways to advance their careers!  In addition to being a lab instructor, Ray has been applying his expertise in Photoshop to develop visual artwork for DEL’s community engagement efforts.  Ray is one of many committed Cayce Place residents that have gone out of their way to help other community members realize the life-enhancing potential of digital tools!  Last month Ray had the rare opportunity to share his experience and ideas with HUD Secretary Julian Castro during Sec. Castro’s visit to Nashville to promote HUD’s ConnectHome initiative!

In May 2015, NTEN and Google Fiber launched the Digital Inclusion Fellowship, a new national program investing in local communities and nonprofit organizations to address the digital divide. Sixteen Fellows comprised the first cohort; and they shared their work in progress earlier this year. We asked Susan Reaves to give us an update on her work with the Nashville Public Library.

What is an important moment that will stay with you well past your Fellowship year?

In one of the first classes that I led for ConnectHome, a young woman was struggling to use the training laptop. She asked for assistance with almost everything. How do you find the wifi connection? Where/what is the USB port? How does the battery charge? She said she had left her glasses at home and couldn’t read.

During the break, she went to her public housing unit and came back wearing a pair of pink glasses. She continued to persist in class, and we encouraged her as she learned how to open a Microsoft document. Finally, near the end of class, she raised her hand and asked, “Ma’am? Do you think I can get my GED online?” To see the hope in her eyes, to know that she would soon be receiving a laptop and internet access for a year, and to be able to direct her to the resources of the Adult Literacy Services of the Nashville Public Library—where she would be able to improve her education with new technology resources—was amazing, and a moment that will stay with me well past my Fellowship year.

Where do you want the digital conversation in Nashville, TN to go in the next 5 years?

In the next five years, I would like more nonprofits to get into the digital literacy arena in Nashville —providing training for participants, devices for use and labs. I would like there to be a digital literacy/inclusion alliance that would provide digital literacy trainers for residents of public housing & other participants in Nashville. I would like more universities like Vanderbilt to take up this digital equity/social justice challenge and provide volunteers for initiatives. I believe that in the course of five years, many families and individuals in Nashville could be educated and the percent of homes with digital adoption rate could increase significantly, especially as city government continues to become more involved with digital inclusion.

What advice would you have for the next cohort of Fellows?

Communication is key with this Fellowship. Collaborate with your host organization to understand the scope of work and best ways to implement. Come up with great ideas for projects and present them to your host. Be organized—use a system where you will be able to measure outputs/outcomes of your work. Do research on the state of digital inclusion in your community—what are the agencies now involved in this mission? What is the state of broadband adoption where you live?

When you think of what your community has accomplished this year, what are your most proud of?

I am most proud of the digital inclusion public/private partnerships that have gotten off the ground with pilot programs this year in Nashville.

One example of this is ConnectHome: Nashville, which is led by: the Metropolitan Government of Nashville/Davidson County, the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency, Community Foundation of Tennessee, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, Martha O’Bryan Center, Nashville Public Library, Nashville Public Television, and Nashville Technology Council.

Another digital inclusion program that is completing a pilot this year, Anytime Access for All, exists within Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. Many of the same partners work together for this program, including: the Nashville Public Library, Metropolitan Government of Nashville/Davidson County, Community Foundation of Tennessee, Vanderbilt University, Dell, and Nashville Technology Council. This project seeks to provide laptops, internet access, and digital skills training to the over 40% of MNPS students who do not have these resources at home. The Nashville Public Library has developed digital literacy curriculum for both programs and has helped lead instruction.

What were you surprised by in your digital inclusion work?

I was surprised by the number of people who were unaware of the need for digital inclusion in our community. Many people felt that if people have access to smartphones, then they should be able to be true digital citizens. I learned in this Fellowship that there was a need to show relevancy for internet use, spread awareness for the initiatives, to teach digital skills, and also educate the community at large about the mission of digital inclusion. Although many people have access to the internet via smartphones, students are not able to complete homework assignments, people cannot complete a job application, and many websites do not provide mobile access for smartphone access.

About the Photo: This picture was taken at an Anytime Access for All Training at Hunters Lane High School in Nashville, TN. This grandmother and grandson were so happy to come to the basic skills training held at the school and then to receive a laptop. The grandson will be able to use the laptop for his IB (International Baccalaureate) courses at school. He had no way to complete his homework before completing this program. Now, he will have a path to be successful in high school and potentially, college.

In May 2015, NTEN and Google Fiber launched the Digital Inclusion Fellowship, a new national program investing in local communities and nonprofit organizations to address the digital divide. Sixteen Fellows comprised the first cohort; and they shared their work in progress earlier this year. We asked Mike Byrd to give us an update on his work with the Kramden Institute.

Where do you want the digital inclusion conversation in Durham, NC to go in the next 5 years?

Over the next five years, I would like to see a comprehensive strategic plan developed for the Triangle region that would include a thorough assessment of the current environment, a strategy to equip all school children in the Triangle that do not have a computer at home with a computer, as well as increased opportunities for adults to participate in digital literacy classes that include a computer award. This strategic plan should develop into an action plan with objectives, responsibilities for the collaborating partners, timelines as well as a budget. Additionally, I would like to see the collaborating partners fund the 5-year project.

For the challenge of digital inclusion to be addressed effectively at the local level, a large collective effort must be made. Any region-wide collaboration will need a backbone organization to manage the day to day work that will be performed.

What advice would you have for the next cohort of Fellows?

Stay in touch with your fellow cohort members; you may find opportunities for collaboration with members from other areas. Networking with Fellows in Charlotte, Atlanta, and even Tennessee has resulted in a better experience for everyone. Also, build good relationships with the team members of your host organization. The support you receive from the host organization can make the difference between a positive experience or a mediocre one. Also, I would advise the next cohort of Fellows to be prepared to sit in an odd place in the organization. As a Fellow, you are not a regular staff member. You will find yourself in many situations where people both inside and outside of the organization will not know how to respond to you. Therefore, it will be important for the Fellow to be well grounded in their own sense of self.

When you think of what your community has accomplished this year, what are you most proud of?

This local community has come together to begin to discuss what can be done to eliminate the digital divide. In that regard, I am most proud of being a part of the Triangle Digital Inclusion Task
Force, an effort that brought together leaders from three different counties in North Carolina to begin discussing strategies to address the problem. From this, I hope to see a real strategy developed to continue the work that we have started around digital inclusion. Another accomplishment is the building of a community of digital literacy instructors. We have organized two lunch and learn events were we invited digital literacy instructors from around the Triangle to come together and share best practices.

What were you surprised by in your digital inclusion work?

I was most surprised by the amount of effort our public housing partners in Durham and Chapel Hill were willing to put forth in community outreach to residents around this issue. Both public housing partners have been very proactive in outreach efforts to their residents. I was also surprised by the number of community leaders willing to spend time on the issue of digital inclusion and bridging the digital divide. My belief at the outset was that it would take more convincing to bring together leaders from around the area; however, community leaders were responsive to our effort to organize a digital inclusion task force.

Another thing that I found surprising is how difficult it is to actually teach digital literacy. I have had the good fortune of spending time with full time digital literacy instructor and I have witnessed firsthand the amount of detail they put into their work.

How can you see yourself applying what you have learned to your future endeavors?

I believe I will apply the skills of working collaboratively in future projects. During this Fellowship, I have worked with several stakeholders in several different organizations. There was a need to keep the stakeholders up to date on various aspects of the pilot program. Additionally, I have discovered many community resources that are in place to help the underserved. In the future, I may be able to use this knowledge to help others move forward in life. Something else to be applied in the future will be the knowledge of the tech community here in the Triangle in general. Since I did not work in the tech field, I was unaware of the vibrant entrepreneurial the community that is developing in the Research Triangle Park. I have had the opportunity to meet several people involved in entrepreneurship, technology education and a fascinating workspace that we have here called the American Underground that houses over 200 startup companies, many in the technology field. Overall, exposure to others in the field of digital inclusion as well as exposure to other professionals in the nonprofit field who spend their time working to alleviate social issues will be an experience that not only professionally but personally as well.

In the photo: Jimmy was a participant in our first Digital Literacy/Job Readiness program in a public housing community in Durham. Jimmy stated that he had never used a computer before. After the first week of classes Jimmy had enough confidence to go online and apply for a job and he received a job offer before we started the third week of class.

In May 2015, NTEN and Google Fiber launched the Digital Inclusion Fellowship, a new national program investing in local communities and nonprofit organizations to address the digital divide. Sixteen Fellows comprised the first cohort; and they shared their work in progress earlier this year. We asked Ruben Campillo to give us an update on his work with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.

What is an important moment that will stay with you well past your Fellowship year?

I think running our pilot program and asking people what they wanted to get out of the class. For some people it was about updating their skills; for others it was being able to find a job; and for some it was about staying connected. One student in particular’s goal was to learn how to save her resume to a USB drive so that she could carry it with her and apply for jobs, because she did not have access to her own computer. We worked with her one-on-one, and she learned how to save her files to a USB drive as well what was important to include in a resume. Shortly after she graduated from the program, she was able to find a job, and it was really encouraging to know that we played a small part in that. Another really uplifting story was that of a student whose main goal was to learn how to use Skype and Facebook so he could stay in touch with his grandchildren. He shared with the class that his daughter had bought him a brand new laptop two years before for this reason, but he did not know how to use it. This is why he had signed up for the class.

Where do you want the digital inclusion conversation in Charlotte, NC to go in the next 5 years?

I think it is important to realize that the conversation about bridging the digital divide exists within a larger context. There are so many issues that overlap, and we need to find a way to connect our efforts. A person or a family that is not online is also facing other challenges, and even though we are working on one particular issue, we need to do that within the context of how that relates to education, economic mobility, etc.

What advice would you have for the next cohort of Fellows?

Don’t forget that there is a wealth of resources and experiences that you can tap into through the NTEN network. So many times I found myself dealing with an issue that another Fellow already had the answer to. There is no need to recreate the wheel.

When you think of what your community has accomplished this year, what are you most proud of?

The way in which, within the library system, we were able to bring different people together and collaborate on this project. There were so many people who were eager to support this initiative that it made it really easy to grow the program. In the end, I felt my role was that of a facilitator more than anything else. Our digital inclusion initiative became a collaborative process that was successful because of everyone’s contributions.

What is something that you have struggled with and overcome and learned from?

I guess not a struggle but a reminder that people are often dealing with multiple responsibilities and priorities. It often took following up with people multiple times through multiple means to be able to get a program started, not because they were not interested, but because like everyone else people have competing demands for their time. I was never discouraged and stayed positive; and in the end we had some great collaborations. The lesson is, don’t take it personally. People are busy. Be persistent.

In May 2015, NTEN and Google Fiber launched the Digital Inclusion Fellowship, a new national program investing in local communities and nonprofit organizations to address the digital divide. Sixteen Fellows comprised the first cohort; and they shared their work in progress earlier this year. We asked Alonso Reyna Rivarola to give us an update on his work with the Salt Lake Education Foundation.

What is an important moment that will stay with you well past your Fellowship year?

A few weeks ago, I went to my aunt’s house to babysit my nephew, Nicolás. While catching up with her, the local Latino radio station was playing on the background. A few minutes into our conversation, I heard the broadcasters announce the names of two Westside Leadership Institute (WLI) participants and now graduates, Mayra and Jorge. When their voices came on the radio, I looked at my aunt and eagerly shouted, “I know them!”

Mayra and Jorge are two of 24 WLI participants who developed in-depth community-based research (CBR) projects this spring at the Glendale-Mountain View Community Learning Campus. The WLI is a community-based leadership development course offered twice a year in collaboration with NeighborWorks Salt Lake and University Neighborhood Partners in the west side of Salt Lake City, Utah. Through the use of technology as a tool for social change, WLI participants researched, developed, implemented, and presented their CBR projects and programs that address community interests and challenges. For example, this year Mayra and Jorge’s team developed a series of workshops to help increase child abuse awareness and prevention for Latin@s in Utah.

As a Digital Inclusion Fellow, it has been a pleasure to work with my community and to utilize technology as a tool for social justice and change. I feel lucky to have worked with the WLI, as it presents a great model for advancing the already-existing leadership in our communities. Furthermore, Mayra and Jorge’s workshop project is an excellent example of the leadership and elaborate projects that WLI participants are able to develop through working with an asset-based lens, fostering nurturing relationships in our community, engaging in deep discussions on social justice and leadership, and utilizing technology as a tool to create positive social change.

Where do you want the digital inclusion conversation in Salt Lake City to go in the next 5 years?

In the next five years, I want the digital inclusion conversation in Salt Lake City to proactively address the digital divide through the implementation of asset-based and community-centric digital inclusion programs. Currently, there is a demand for organizations in Salt Lake City to advance their missions to include digital inclusion work. However, in order to appropriately address the digital divide, current and new organizations must develop adequate programs and trainings that work from the ground up to address and actively respond to the challenges and interests of the communities with whom they are working. In the next five years, I see organizations across Salt Lake implementing digital inclusion programs, and even new nonprofit organizations being established to address the digital divide. In doing so, these organizations must keep in mind the fast-changing demographics of Salt Lake City, and work towards digital inclusion through the implementation of quality programs that are responsive to community interests, as well cultural and lingual assets the community members possess. Moreover, I hope these emerging programs and organizations are fully dedicated to providing direct digital inclusion services, particularly to the west side of Salt Lake City, and draw from the existing community to develop future trainers who might already be entrenched in community work. Meaningful change and impact do not happen overnight. Consequently, if these new organizations and programs are genuinely committed to advancing digital inclusion, they must also invest in the long-term involvement and development of these individuals, as well as the community.

When you think of what your community has accomplished this year, what are you most proud of?

Working with the WLI on addressing social justice issues in our community showed me the importance of having a broader objective behind our digital literacy and inclusion work. Through this perspective, it is easier to consider digital literacy a great tool that can help support and amplify the already-incredible work our communities are capable of doing. I am very proud that, this year, a group of 24 community members were able to find a space they felt comfortable in to further develop their interests and knowledge, and to create meaningful projects that address community challenges. I am also happy that some of the WLI participants are now implementing independent projects, which I’m confident will have a positive effect in our communities in the immediate and lasting future.

What were you surprised by in your digital inclusion work?

I was able to bridge my passion for community leadership development and education by utilizing digital inclusion as a tool for social change. In this capacity, I was able to develop an understanding and approach to working with my community to further develop their interests and social justice agendas. This was an overall really powerful experience, particularly seeing their presentations at the end of the WLI. It was such a privilege to learn from their research, projects, and endeavors to close educational, social, health, and human rights gaps in our community.

How can you see yourself applying what you have learned to your future endeavors?

This experience reinforced my work and love for my community, and taught me that I am genuinely invested in continuing to work with my community in an asset-based approach. Acknowledging that we are all knowledge holders, it is really empowering to work with other community members and learn from their work, as well as interests, and with the use of technology support their work to aim for positive and inclusive social change.

Photo: 2016 Westside Leadership Institute (WLI) graduates, (from left to right) Evelia Castrejón, Jorge Zamora, María Guadalupe, and Mayra Zamudio, present their community-based research (CBR) project findings on child abuse awareness and prevention for Latin@s in Utah. Throughout the course of 11 weeks, WLI participants researched, developed, implemented and presented their CBR projects, which covered topics on access to higher education for Latin@ youth in Utah, child abuse awareness and prevention for Latin@s in Utah, addiction awareness and prevention for Latin@s in Utah, and immigrant rights awareness for Latin@s in Utah. Utilizing technology as a tool for social change, WLI participants developed elaborate presentations for their peers and community.

In May 2015, NTEN and Google Fiber launched the Digital Inclusion Fellowship, a new national program investing in local communities and nonprofit organizations to address the digital divide. Sixteen Fellows comprised the first cohort; and they shared their work in progress earlier this year. We asked Naymar Prikhodko to give us an update on her work with Skillpoint Alliance.

What is an important moment that will stay with you well past your Fellowship year?

I have trained 13 residents of the Housing Authority of the City of Austin (HACA) who have been challenging themselves to be more involved in the community and to develop personal and professional goals. The HACA Computer Lab Assistants have worked on their action plans, have come to monthly training sessions with me, and have worked diligently to develop abilities to assist other HACA residents in the use of technology. During this learning process—both for the Computer Lab Assistants and for me as a facilitator and mentor—I will always remember the satisfaction I felt when one of them facilitated her first workshop on Computer Basic Skills to HACA residents. The joy and sense of realization surpassed my expectations when I saw one of my trainees giving back to the community and empowering others through her work.

What advice would you have for the next cohort of Fellows?

Be committed to your position as a Digital Inclusion Fellow. The extent of working for and with the community depends on a personal decision to serve, to mentor, and to facilitate workshops on digital inclusion topics. For those who are new in the position, I would say that the first three months will be challenging while they are spent becoming acquainted with the Fellowship and the expectations from the host organization. During this exploratory time, I suggest you rely on the advice from both your NTEN supervisor and the host organization team lead, not to mention support from other Fellows, especially those who have experience in the position. Also, ask questions about all the resources available, and pay attention to the available support in the community for networking and partnership.

When you think of what your community has accomplished this year, what are you most proud of?

I am proud of contributing to empowering more than 80 people through my digital inclusion workshops oriented to parents, Parent Specialists, and HACA residents. I am also proud of being able to amplify the Empower program and of increasing the number of participants in the program an average of 25% per quarter.

How have you grown this year?

I went from being an instructor to becoming an informal life coach while working with my clients’ professional and personal development. I built up a curriculum developed to empower people in the use of technology. This curriculum is part of a pilot focusing on training 13 Computer Lab Assistants who assist other residents in three HACA computer labs. I have learned different strategies to motivate others; I use these strategies for helping participants understand tech choices, connect them to available community resources, and help them set and achieve their goals. I have improved my time management by setting up measurable goals, recognizing problem areas, keeping a daily log, categorizing activities, prioritizing tasks, and summarizing data.

How can you see yourself applying what you have learned to your future endeavors?

I see myself expanding my service and helping others recognize their competencies, abilities, and significant skills. I see myself inspiring and motivating others and helping them discover new ways to think about a subject. I am using more stories as the best way to explain concepts, because I understand stories are the best way for humans to communicate and find connection. As I learn and apply new techniques for facilitating workshops, I can see my own potential to become a life coach and motivational speaker and continue my journey of being an instrument of empowerment.

In May 2015, NTEN and Google Fiber launched the Digital Inclusion Fellowship, a new national program investing in local communities and nonprofit organizations to address the digital divide. Sixteen Fellows comprised the first cohort; and they shared their work in progress earlier this year. We asked Sarah Bell to give us an update on her work with Literacy Kansas City.

Where do you want the digital inclusion conversation in Kansas City to go in the next 5 years?

I would love for the digital inclusion conversation in Kansas City to move toward a better understanding of how we can best use technology to assist those who have learning disabilities or low literacy skills.

Throughout my time as a Fellow, I have realized that I bring an important voice to conversations about digital inclusion because of the additional obstacle low literacy poses to accessing digital information. For example, I recently learned about examples of low literate mobile phone users employing technology originally designed for visually impaired users, such as text that is read aloud. There are so many great resources available online, but we must start incorporating tools that take into consideration those who struggle with reading. We need to use more videos, have less text-heavy websites, write using accessible reading levels, and have more texts that are read aloud.

As we continue to bridge the digital divide and make digital inclusion a reality for everyone, we cannot forget that there is still a population who will need additional assistance to access the digital world, and we must ensure we are providing the appropriate tools and websites to best assist them.

When you think of what your community has accomplished this year, what are you most proud of?

I am really proud of the work we have done turning our computer lab into a public community space. It has always been a space for our students to use, but now we have community members, volunteers, and partner agencies using our lab on a daily and weekly basis. Since opening up the lab, I have seen individuals working toward their online high school diploma, researching information to prepare for an interview, completing their taxes, and even acquiring a patent for an invention!

Every Friday morning, we have a job training organization use our lab to run a basic computer skills class for their students. We also provide assisted computer lab hours each week that provide individualized guidance to help students and community members with any digital-related tasks. Over the course of this past year, our lab has transitioned into a safe, comfortable space in our organization, where students feel supported, are eager to learn, and know they will get the assistance they need.

What is something that you have struggled with and overcome/learned from?

Knowing where to start digital literacy work when working with low literate adults has been a challenge. When the Fellowship began, we started out way too advanced for most of our students, or we did not do a good job of incorporating relevancy into the digital programs. It was hard to know the best way to get our students using and interested in digital activities. We kept trying different programs, but nothing seemed to resonate with our students. Then, a presentation I went to on digital inclusion gave me a better awareness of how to frame what we are doing. In that talk, the presenter mentioned four facets of digital inclusion work—access, digital training and tech support, devices, and public computing lab—and that you need all four to be successful. I realized that we have three of the four parts, but we don’t provide access. Without access at home to replicate the skills they learned in class, I realized that students were less inclined to want to learn new digital skills.

Additionally, we realized that our literacy classes could be more successful if we increased the amount of digital work in them, but we couldn’t do that without potentially making it a burden for many of our students because they do not have access at home. We knew access at home provided a benefit to students’ success in class, because those who had it were able to participate in our online program, Reading Plus. The more lessons they did, the more progress they made.

Seeing the academic strides these students were making when they had access as well as gaining the awareness that access was a missing part of our work was important for me to understand how to move forward. My focus has become getting students connected. Whether it’s through hotspots we lend them, or tapping into the numerous options that are becoming available in Kansas City, I am excited to see the changes we can make if we get more students connected.

What were you surprised by in your digital inclusion work?

I was surprised that digital work is so often separated from literacy instruction. That not all of our students saw or understood the relevancy of having digital skills. Or, that they put digital on the bottom of their priority list. One of the phrases I heard over and over again during my time as a Fellow is that digital inclusion is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity. A utility. We are living in a society that uses technology for everyday tasks—not just as a convenience, but sometimes as the only option for filling out forms or accessing information. Teaching reading and writing cannot only be pen and paper anymore. While that is obviously an important part of literacy instruction, it can’t be separated out from the digital training.

How have you grown this year?

Before this year of working in digital inclusion work, I didn’t realize the full effects of people not being digitally connected. I knew there were people who weren’t connected, but I hadn’t stopped to fully consider what that meant for their day-to-day lives. Having internet access at home is something I have never questioned. It’s my source of news, my way of staying connected with friends and family, how I access information for my graduate schoolwork, and my entertainment.

The more I worked in digital inclusion and had discussions about “bridging the digital divide,” the more I realized what that actually meant. Digital inclusion is not just about catching up on your favorite Netflix shows, Facebooking your friend across the country, applying for jobs, or getting alerts on your phones about current events. Digital inclusion is all of that and more. It’s about giving people access to the opportunities that they need and want. Connecting them to the rest of the world. Getting them the training they need to succeed in a technology-driven society.

I have grown this year because I have a better understanding of what digital inclusion actually is and why it is such an important issue for our society to be talking about. I have grown—before this Fellowship, I didn’t realize just how passionate I am about providing digital equity for everyone.

In May 2015, NTEN and Google Fiber launched the Digital Inclusion Fellowship, a new national program investing in local communities and nonprofit organizations to address the digital divide. Sixteen Fellows comprised the first cohort; and they shared their work in progress earlier this year. We asked Daniel Lucio to give us an update on his work with Austin Free-Net.

What is an important moment that will stay with you well past your Fellowship year?

We held a Training Summit in early January for volunteers and staff of other organizations working on digital literacy. Putting together and hosting that training re-affirmed some basic things for me about working in the public sector—primarily that work is best done collaboratively, whether it is within the organization or with external partners. Also, our volunteers have a lot more to give than we’ve been able to anticipate. For example, one of the volunteers from the Housing Authority programs let us know that she had taken what she learned at Austin Free-Net and started helping veterans complete job applications online and navigate the web. It was incredible to learn how many of our volunteers wanted more opportunities like this.

Where do you want the digital inclusion conversation in Austin to go in the next 5 years?

We’ve got a long way to go for digital inclusion in the state of Texas. Much of rural Texas is severely under-connected, with only dial-up speeds available—if any internet is available at all. And my home in the Rio Grande Valley has as many as 40 percent of households with no access to the internet, among some of the lowest access rates in the country. The way that Texas cities work with internet providers and public organizations to address these shortfalls will be in large part affected by the examples set here in Austin. In the next 5 years, I hope that stakeholders in Austin are able to find some successful and inclusive models for broadband rollout. I also hope that organizations like Austin Free-Net and the Public Library will be able to make digital inclusion a regular part of the conversation about public services. What that looks like is creating resources, partnership, and programs with organizations that don’t focus on digital inclusion, but whose clients benefit directly from understanding the value of 21st century digital access and skills.

What advice would you have for the next cohort of Fellows?

Work collaboratively and run with it. It’s really easy to get caught up in the minutia of everyday operations when working at a nonprofit. That’s because everyone is usually doing the work of two or three people and they have very little time or resources to devote to new programs. Creating ways for you to work with your colleagues to develop your programs helps to ensure the success and longevity. This means finding creative and smart ways to meet people where they are at—short team meetings, one-on-ones, volunteering to take some of their work, and trainings. Once you have the support from your team that you need to go forward, run with it! You have the ability to create resources and execute programs on your own. If you collaborate and then run with it, there will be very few things you can’t do—and it won’t be for lack of trying.

When you think of what your community has accomplished this year, what are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of our volunteers and students who have stepped up to support Austin Free-Net. They have shown a level of dedication to the digital divide that I was not anticipating, but is extremely refreshing to see. The students from the University of Texas tackled everything from outreach to building new communication tools for Austin Free-Net, all while getting to know our training programs and clients—not to mention they are all very involved in other school activities. Our volunteer lab leaders stepped up to take more advanced training on how to work with clients and how to report that work, allowing Austin Free-Net to get a better glimpse into the day-to-day interests of clients utilizing our public labs. All of these volunteers also stepped outside their comfort zones and came out on weekends to talk with residents in “under connected” communities about resources available to them to get trained and online.

How can you see yourself applying what you have learned to your future endeavors?

Through the work and relationships built during this fellowship, I have become hyper-aware of barriers that exist to access basic services of any kind, especially those that rely on basic digital skills. I’ve learned that it’s extremely important to not only consider those barriers, but also to hear directly from the people you are serving about how better to accomplish your goals. Their perspective and input will ensure that you’re staying true to your programs and goals. I hope that in my future endeavors I can continue to learn and grow from this lesson.

Diversity is not a new topic for the nonprofit sector. When it comes to the internet, diversity plays a complicated role. If we aren’t all online—creating content, creating tools, creating the internet itself—it shouldn’t be a surprise when the online world doesn’t reflect many of our experiences or communities, let alone offer services or tools that add value to many of our lives.

Bottom line: diversity is missing in our digital world; and one of our biggest hurdles is a misconception around access, which is the foundation of a concept called “digital equity.”

What does digital equity even mean? The National Digital Inclusion Alliance defines digital equity as a universal “daily access to the internet, at speeds, quality, and capacity necessary to accomplish common tasks, with digital skills necessary to fully participate online, and whenever possible on a personal device and home network.”

What Do We Mean By Access?

“Daily access.” I want to focus on that first. When it comes to digital inclusion efforts, access generally means connectivity and service. Unfortunately, it is often used to mean access points, like libraries or schools. This is where we start to distance ourselves from reaching equity. Yes, libraries, schools, and other public access points serve as incredibly valuable resources for those who otherwise would not have internet connectivity in their home or through a personal device, like a smartphone. And while these institutions are valuable, they do not provide the same connectivity as a home network or personal device. Internet service, coming through to a computer sitting on a desk inside of a library, does nothing to move thousands of community members online to apply for jobs, enroll in health care or other services, communicate with their family or friends, or stay on top of the news when the library is closed and those community members are available.

When we think about access, we need to consider instead if it is a realized resource. For example, the Multnomah County Library here in Portland, OR provided over 1 million public computing sessions (on their provided computers, this number does not reflect public wifi sessions used in libraries) last year. That is a way of understanding the realized resource—there were 1 million instances of community members coming into a branch and getting online using a library computer. This is great news and an important offering for the community! However, we can not point to this success and say that all of Portland is connected, or even that all of Portland’s community members had access to the internet. If their work schedules, travel constraints, and other time pressures do not allow them to visit a branch during operating hours to get online (that is even with the assumption that there is an available computer when they get there), it doesn’t become a realized resource.

Let’s Just Admit It

In order to start to work towards equity, we have to first admit that not everyone in our community is online. Then we can start to reach out to those who aren’t online with pathways to realizing the resources necessary for being on the other side of the digital divide: internet service, a device to go online with, and the skills and knowledge to engage.

We can then also identify other structural inequities—services, platforms, and processes that neither include nor welcome new communities. What are the digital services you use each day, either on your phone or computer? Do they feel like a perfect fit for you or your goals? For most of us, the answer is probably no. Someone like you may not have been part of the entire process identifying that concept, creating a prototype, testing it and improving it, releasing it to the market, and making investments to influence development all along the way. But if there is only a small number of privileged people designing and creating the technology surrounding and impacting much of our world, it will never reflect all of our goals, lifestyles, preferences, or modalities.

Lest you think this is a rant on the technology sector, let’s remember that nonprofit organizations fall into this cycle, too. Who isn’t online in your community to take your survey, register for your programs, benefit from your services, or give you feedback? How are you engaging a diversity of community members in your program design and evaluation? What does it mean to create an organization that reflects the needs and goals of the community it serves?

It starts with access. Who is not here? Now, those of us who are, it is our responsibility to build those bridges.

Photo credit: Artwork from OSU’s 4th Annual Diversity Leadership Symposium

In May 2015, NTEN and Google Fiber launched the Digital Inclusion Fellowship, a new national program investing in local communities and nonprofit organizations to address the digital divide. Sixteen Fellows are working this year on projects that include setting up basic computer skills courses, increasing home Internet usage, and volunteer recruitment and training. Maithri Vangala shares her recent work as a Fellow in Atlanta, Georgia, working for TechBridge.

On a recent morning, I woke up and immediately reached for my smartphone. Certain that I had missed the world’s end overnight, I went straight to my email inbox to find an article my mother sent over about how low- and middle-income families in the United States are affected by limited access to the Internet.

What Is Underconnection?

The article cited a recent study from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, which found that, while 91% of Americans have basic Internet access, many low- and middle-income families are “underconnected,” subsisting on limited access through mobile technology or a single connected computer.

The concept of underconnection is one I’m very familiar with in my work as a Digital Inclusion Fellow with TechBridge here in Atlanta. TechBridge typically serves other nonprofit organizations addressing the causes of poverty in their communities by providing them with affordable technology and business know-how so that they can better carry out their missions.

This year, we launched a pilot to help five nonprofit organizations start digital inclusion programs. These include the following:

(Check out our project adoption page here.)

Last fall, I met with program managers, employment coaches, instructors, principals, and even parent liaisons of over 20 nonprofit organizations to determine which organizations we would support.

Each time I met with an organization, I was provided with anecdotes of the challenges the clients of these organizations faced—being unable to apply for jobs online, enhance their own education or participate in that of their child’s, or even be in good contact with their physician to manage complex health issues.

Many staff members told me how helpless they feel in watching those whom they serve be affected by the digital equity gap, which is what being under-connected ultimately means.

The Income Gap and the Digital Divide

Here in Atlanta, we hear a lot about inequity and inequality. We’ve got a challenging racial history. And we are currently ranked number one for income inequality, with the largest income gap between the top 5% and the bottom 25% of any major city in the country.

In addition to things like access to affordable housing, transportation, and health care, the income gap our city faces also impacts who has unlimited access to broadband Internet and who does not. Twenty percent of households don’t have Internet access in their homes. Forty-two percent of families earning less than $25,000 don’t have computers or Internet access in their homes.

As I’ve met with other community members and talked with peers about digital inclusion, I realize that we still have a great deal of work to do in educating our community about why it is so important to uplift residents who are currently under-connected so that they can become informed participants of the digital economy.

Curiosity as a Privilege

I know our city understands this, too. Last month, the city launched the Atlanta ConnectHome Program at the Center of Hope in the Dunbar Recreation Center in Southwest Atlanta.

Mayor Reed shared his thoughts about the program’s importance: “The Internet is an indispensable tool for accessing educational resources, employment opportunities, health care services, and so much more. Our families and children who now have the opportunity to participate in the ConnectHome program will realize that high-speed broadband is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.”

For a Fellow like me, it is invigorating to hear a city official get it.

Here’s a personal story which helps all of this hit home for me. Last fall, I was speaking with my friend Josh, a high school English teacher in an inner city public school. He was talking about the challenges of teaching his students how to do research online. As we talked about how intuitive it might be for him or me to do a quick Google search to learn about, well, anything we wanted, we realized right in the middle of our conversation that limited access to Internet goes so far as to make curiosity a privilege.

Sure, as an informed participant of the digital economy I rely heavily on my smartphone to carry me through a day. But without unlimited access to the Internet on a larger device, I wouldn’t have been able to write and edit this very piece with the ease and timeframe within which I did, shifting back and forth between studies, reports, press releases, and my own notes.

During Atlanta’s ConnectHome launch, I met with the first participants of the program in the Center’s gym. Excitement rang about getting a device, and I often received evident joy from participants who were first hearing about a GED class or career program offered by some of the nonprofit organizations present at the launch. A GED class might benefit a sister who had previously had a hard time in school or who was forced to drop out to help to support the family. A career program could benefit a husband who has been unemployed for a very long time.

And then a mother with a hearing impairment dropped by to speak with me, bringing her son along to help us communicate. As someone who often needs to text or email to communicate with others, she was so excited about having a device to help her day-to-day operations. “With this device, I can do even more without your help,” she happily explained to her son.

As I heard these stories I couldn’t help but swell with pride at the hard work our organizations are doing this year to make space to incorporate digital literacy and inclusion into their existing programming.

Yes—it is still a privilege to be curious. But we’re onto something here in Atlanta. We’re connecting the underconnected.