Tag: digital inclusion

One of NTEN’s core beliefs is that the internet is vital to our daily lives and that it should be affordable and accessible to all people. We use the internet every day for things ranging from registering for health care, managing appointments, and talking with doctors to accessing education and communicating with family member’s schools. From finding and applying for jobs to engaging in social and civic life locally and nationally. That’s not to mention how necessary the internet is for nonprofit organizations to function, communicate internally, and serve their communities.

Net neutrality is the principle that all internet service providers (ISPs) should provide access to all content and applications equally without preference for the source or destination of the content. Net neutrality is significantly impacted by who is president because the president is the one who appoints the chairman of the FCC, the governing body on internet related policy.

Yet, in the four presidential candidate debates held so far, there has been no mention at all of the topic. (The debates included only Democratic candidates. There are three declared Republican candidates, though no debates are scheduled.)

There are many reasons why this could be the case: the debates have been broadcast on commercial networks owned by leading opponents of net neutrality. Most of the candidates have received donations from ISPs. And the candidates themselves may not have an opinion on it. Regardless of why the topic hasn’t come up, we need to put pressure on the candidates and the debate hosts to name net neutrality. The candidates should be asked if they will reinstate the rules set in place under President Obama in 2015 and undone by President Trump in 2017.

Remember, 86% of folks in the U.S. opposed the repeal President Trump made in 2017. With a topic that has such overwhelming support, there is no reason that candidates are not called to commit to their plans.

Here are three things you can do today:

  1. Watch this informative and entertaining Last Week Tonight with John Oliver video from 2017 to learn more about net neutrality or read this recap from CNET which was updated in June.
  2. Contact the candidates, especially any that you may have donated to, and ask they include their plans for net neutrality in their policy statements and on their websites. Ask them to speak about it in the debates.
  3. Tweet ABC News and Univision, who are broadcasting the next debate on Thursday, September 12, and demand that net neutrality be included.

As another summer draws to a close, it’s time to update you on the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work NTEN has undertaken this quarter.

You may have read last month that NTEN is making a membership shift this fall. I love this new approach because it aligns so well with our commitment to equity. In fact, the changes were inspired by asking the question, “How is our current membership model not equitable or inclusive?” The conversation generated in the community resulted in an approach that is consistent with our commitment and led to NTEN articulating its core beliefs for the first time.

Also, for the first time, we’ve formalized a monthly plan for our fiscal year specific to NTEN’s DEI work across all programs and operations. It’s an acknowledgment that DEI work is more than just meeting regularly or checking a box on a grant application. It’s challenging and necessary work that must be thoughtfully considered and mapped out if an organization is to institute change for itself and subsequently for the community it serves.

NTEN’s board created a DEI committee to support the staff’s commitment to equity. This team works to ensure that our board will support decision making with a focus on equity. DEI work should be present at all levels of an organization, and we couldn’t be happier to have our board joining the journey with us.

The application forms to join the 20NTC Session Advisory Committee, to submit 20NTC session applications, and numerous program-specific applications were all updated this year with a statement that encouraged folks “who identify as Black, Indigenous, or other people of color, as well as gender nonconforming, having a disability, LGBTQIA+, and other under-represented community members” to apply. It’s an acknowledgment of NTEN’s DEI goals directly at the program level. We will continue to evolve this question as we use it broadly throughout our organization.

Finally, we’re updating the requirements for posting to NTEN’s job board. New job postings will specify a salary or include a range beginning next month. Including a salary range promotes transparency, mitigates the perpetuation of the gender wage gap, and discourages discrimination of people of color during the application and hiring process. “Depends on Experience” will no longer be an option for the salary field as people have a right to know what the salary range is for a job they are applying for.

This has been our summer. What have you done to further diversity, equity, and inclusion in your organization? Tweet us @NTENorg or email us.

For members of the LGBTQ+ community, the current political climate has been turbulent. Now more than ever, the community has taken to the internet to make and encourage change in the world. Nonprofits play an essential role in supporting LGBTQ+ communities through advocacy and resources to effect social change. There is a huge opportunity for nonprofits to use their non-partisan positioning to support this community and others that are stigmatized through their content and interactions.

Here are six best practices for digital content and collecting feedback to make sure your spaces are more inclusive, especially when working with stigmatized audiences.

Digital Content

Make it a necessity to collaborate with members of the community you want to reach. Collaboration not only ensures that your organization has the support of the community, but it also means that your organization has verified knowledge about the community. Having this information can mean a lot for the comfort of your audiences, and makes it clear that you aren’t targeting this population for your own gains.

An excellent solution for this is to make sure that your organization is incredibly diverse. There has been plenty of research done that proves diversity makes a team smarter and stronger. It could also make it easier to connect with difficult-to-reach communities.

If you’re looking to reach a community that no one on your team is personally involved with, you should strive to connect with advocacy groups for that group. Be prepared to explain what you’re doing exactly and why you’re doing it. Make sure you want to reach this community for the right reasons. If anyone feels like you’re trying to tokenize a specific population, chances are they won’t want to help you. Being prepared and able to speak clearly about your goals will allow advocacy groups to vouch for you and your work.

Avoid stigmatizing language and labeling. You aren’t trying to ‘other’ any population. You’re working to bring everyone into the conversation and normalize their existence. Make sure that the language you’re using doesn’t have a negative history. While some LGBTQ+ people use the word ‘queer’ in their personal vernacular when speaking with others from the community, it’s understood that there is a significant and negative history around the word, so it’s a word to avoid when working with the LGBTQ+ population.

Avoid adding unnecessary descriptors. Sometimes, in an effort to be inclusive, organizations will call out groups that don’t need special attention. A website with medical information, for instance, might have a section labeled LGBTQ+ Health. While this doesn’t necessarily seem problematic, it adds an exclusionary tone and asserts that folx in the LGBTQ+ community have to worry about their health separately from everyone else. Creating these lines of separation between the health needs of audiences creates an assumption that LGBTQ+ folx have “other” health issues they need to worry about, which typically isn’t the case. All people have bodies and health concerns; there is no need to distinguish between healthcare and LGBTQ+ healthcare.

Content that is specific to LGBTQ+ folx in some way (i.e., hormone replacement therapy or gender-affirming surgeries) can have relevant metadata to make sure it appears in a search, rather than using explicit labeling that creates dividing lines between populations.

Recently, Apple announced its new menstrual cycle monitoring in its WatchOS update. Apple did a great job using inclusive language in its announcement. Without stating it outright, the company acknowledged that women aren’t the only people who experience menstrual cycles. Nowhere on its site does it say that this feature is for women; the language (“Gaining insight into your menstrual cycle,” for example) is incredibly inclusive. Apple mirrors this language across all of its content, and in doing so is continuing its inclusivity without making a big deal out of it. You don’t have to announce inclusivity for it to be noticed and impactful.

Find unbiased ways to address people. It’s important to neutralize how you talk about and to people. Instead of using gendered pronouns or phrases like “he” or “she” use a neutral pronoun like “they.” If you want to take it a step further, you can avoid pronouns altogether and use descriptive phrases, like “the participant,” “the external stakeholder,” or “the sales-clerk.” And then there’s the most neutral descriptor: to use someone’s name.

When addressing a group of people, it’s good practice to stay away from saying things like “ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls” or “you guys.” Take a page out New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s book and try saying, “Attention, everyone …” This neutralizes the language and truly addresses all people. In more casual settings, you can say things such as “friends,” “y’ all,” or “people” instead of “guys.” Use of this language is habitual, and shifting your mindset will take time, but people will recognize the effort and appreciate it. This practice of neutralizing language should be mirrored in your company culture and in your personal life. The phrases “practice what you preach” and “practice makes perfect” apply here.

Collecting Feedback

Be inclusive when collecting survey feedback to gain an accurate representation of your audience. If you want a true understanding of all your audiences and external stakeholders, you need to open up to genders that fall outside of cis-normative culture. Only using “Male,” “Female,” and “Other” will turn away potential participants who don’t feel welcomed into a survey based on the limited options. This common oversight means you aren’t getting an understanding of your entire audience. In surveys and screeners, offer the following options:

  1. Male
  2. Female
  3. Non-Binary/Third Gender
  4. Prefer Not to Answer
  5. Another Option We Haven’t Thought Of: ____________________(open this field to allow participants to include their own gender option. Thanks to Lynn Boyden for this suggestion.)

Most survey platforms don’t allow you to change the word “Other” to something more inclusive, so it’s incredibly important to make sure that field is open to allow participants to insert their desired gender option.

You can also allow participants to select their pronoun instead of gender, although that does assume that everyone knows what a pronoun is.

When collecting face-to-face feedback, make sure your participants feel comfortable with the moderator. People who belong to stigmatized audiences sometimes need additional assurance that they will be safe in new situations. When collecting face-to-face feedback, it is crucial to make sure that the participant doesn’t feel uncomfortable, as this could lead to biased or inaccurate responses. For example, trans people may not feel comfortable talking about transition-related topics with a cisgender person, no matter how much of an ally they claim or want to be. This type of mindset applies to any stigmatized, underserved, or difficult to reach population.

Another example would be women who have survived domestic violence. They may not feel comfortable talking to someone who resembles their abuser. You should gather this information in a screener beforehand to make sure that when it comes time to conduct feedback sessions, you are prepared to speak with them in the most empathetic way possible. Ask screener questions like, “Our researcher identifies as male; would you feel comfortable speaking about this sensitive topic with a male-presenting person?” or “Our researcher is cisgender, would you be comfortable discussing transition-related topics with a cisgender person?”

As for many stigmatized populations, the internet has historically been a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community. If we all make these small but impactful changes in our organizations, we can make sure that the digital world continues to feel safe and welcoming to everyone. With this knowledge, we hope that organizations everywhere can make these necessary and important changes in language and practice, which will, in turn, encourage these changes in the “real world.”

Update 10/7/19: The Supreme Court declined to hear the case which is a blow to Domino’s. The company is subject to January ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that Domino’s and other retailers must make its online services accessible. The case is expected to go to trial.

The accommodations available to ensure someone with a visual disability can successfully order the pizza they want at a Domino’s are protected because of the Americans with Disabilities Act. For the last 30 years, the ADA has prohibited discrimination against people with disabilities in several areas, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications, and access to state and local government programs and services. Should Domino’s have to ensure the same level of accommodation is available for those same folks with visual disabilities through the Domino’s mobile ordering app?

Domino’s is currently testing that question. And the ultimate court ruling could impact nonprofits in huge ways.

Before we get too focused on Domino’s in court, remember that the ADA is something nonprofits comply with today. ADA compliance at your organization may include making your office or program sites physically accessible, adapting employee workstations or hours, ensuring your practices and policies, from benefits to hiring processes, are inclusive and do not explicitly or implicitly discriminate.

So, Domino’s. They are claiming that their mobile app is separate from their physical stores, and the same kinds of accommodations for those with disabilities are not required. However, the panel in Guillermo Robles v. Dominos Pizza LLC believes that the ADA rules do apply to Domino’s online ordering services (the website and mobile app.) They reasoned that the ADA specifies “places of public accommodation” (like restaurants, hotels, parks, museums, daycare centers, as well as many other places where someone would access a service) need to provide alternative ways for folks with disabilities (in this case, visual disabilities and blindness) to participate. And here’s the important part — the ADA applies to the services being offered by a “place of accommodation” and not the physical “place” specifically. The panel connects the app and the physical restaurant and says the app needs to be accessible to someone with a visual disability because the app is used to order pizza from a physical store.

The physical world has long been the focus and definition of the ADA, from wheelchair ramps to sign language interpreters, but the line between offline and online is getting thinner and thinner. A final ruling in the Domino’s case that says the ADA does, in fact, apply to the digital world because of the physical world’s direct connection to the service provided, would result in necessary changes for businesses and nonprofits. NTEN believes this case should conclude with a ruling that provides a precedent definition that the ADA applies to online services because the world is different than it was 30 years ago. Advances in technology have enabled a digital interface for our society that should not be considered unequal to offline spaces. 

You’re probably reading this and wondering if you would be compliant. What services or programs do you deliver online that are open to the public? Is your website accessible in general? Are your community calls or webinars captioned? Does your organization have a mobile app, and is it accessible?

I ask those questions and have to admit, NTEN can do better. We’ve publicly committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), yet some NTEN pages use a font/color combination that fails readability tests. And we neglected to invite a captioner to our recent community call, so now the recording isn’t captioned. Because the NTEN staff doesn’t use these accommodations, they’re easy to forget. And that’s the point. Our benign indifference results in exclusion and disrespect.

Regardless of potential rulings that could provide further definition of the ADA, accessibility is a hugely important consideration your organization is likely not focused on. Here are three steps to help focus you:

  1. Use this free and easy to use online tool to get a report about the accessibility of your website
  2. Ensure that you have folks with disabilities involved in your planning and project processes
  3. Create a set of questions to help guide staff decision making that includes questions/reminders about accessibility and inclusion

What’s been your experience including accessibility considerations in your planning? What advice do you have to share? Tweet us @NTENorg or email us.

Are you passionate about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) with a focus on racial equity? Are you doing DEI work in your organization or community? Do you have lived experiences that inform the changes you want to see in the NTEN community and the world? Then we’d love to have you join our new DEI Committee!

DEI has played a vital part in NTEN’s evolution over recent years. Additionally, our commitment to equity has been crucial to how staff and community meet our mission. Community members have provided valuable feedback on our DEI work, and this new committee formalizes the feedback process.

NTEN’s internal DEI task force will work with the committee in quarterly virtual meetings. The first meeting will decide how the task force and committee will work together and share updates to the community.

At NTEN, it’s incredibly important to us that the community we serve is an active part of our work. Because we value inclusivity and centering members in our decisions, we’re excited to introduce this new forum for discussion.

The call for community members to join this committee is closed; however, if you’re interested in learning more about NTEN’s DEI work, please email me.

Current and past Digital Inclusion Fellows from all five cohorts took part in the National Digital Inclusion Alliance’s Net Inclusion 2019 earlier this month.

Fellows joined digital inclusion community practitioners, advocates, academics, Internet service providers, and policymakers from around the world for the conference on April 1-3, in Charlotte, North Carolina. Several of the Fellows presented at the conference, as did NTEN’s Senior Program Manager Leana Mayzlina.

2016 and 2018 Digital Inclusion Fellow Munirih Jester of San Antonio received the Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Award. As the Digital Inclusion ConnectHome Coordinator for the San Antonio Housing Authority, Munirih has delivered digital literacy skills training to nearly 2,000 participants, awarded nearly 900 free computers, and helped to connect 1,069 homes to the internet.

The three-day conference was a valuable opportunity for Fellows to learn about digital inclusion best practices and to showcase their own digital inclusion work. We asked the 2019 Fellows for their top lessons learned as first-time Net Inclusion attendees, and to share what’s next for their Fellowship projects.

A’Sarah Green, East Cleveland Public Library, Cleveland, OH

A’Sarah spoke about part of her Digital Inclusion Fellowship project, the Technology Passport Earn a Device (EAD) Program. “Presenting my work was scary to me, as that was my first time presenting to a group that large,” says A’Sarah. “There’s an amazing amount of people out there with different organizations doing the same work on many different scales, sharing a breathtaking amount of knowledge and program ideas.”

Her perspective on digital inclusion has changed since she started her Fellowship. “I knew that my community was suffering. However, other communities are going through the same thing and there are more people out there like myself working to better the communities as a whole.”

A’Sarah’s next steps as a Fellow? “To continue spreading digital literacy the best way I can!” Her Technology Passport EAD Program will focus on supporting participants in completing digital literacy trainings in order to earn a laptop computer they can take home.

Krysti Nellermoe, International Rescue Committee, Salt Lake City, UT

Krysti presented about her organization’s work to integrate Digital Inclusion into existing programming to support newly arrived refugees. She was also a panelist on the session Developing and Managing Partnerships in Digital Inclusion, in which she outlined how IRC SLC balances working with tech companies and corporations for long-term mutual success in digital inclusion programming.

“I discussed how important it is to find corporate partners, specifically certified B Corps, with similar values and a desire to learn about the actual needs of the communities,” says Krysti. “I emphasized ongoing training on needs for corporate leads and volunteers during every interaction and that formalized MOUs and ongoing communication is integral to effective partnerships.”

While experiencing the conference and working on her initial Fellowship plans, Krysti says she’s “acutely aware of the need for policy-level changes to accompany ground-level work to turn the tide on digital equity. “Organizations will also need to look inward and outward in their digital inclusion efforts, not forgetting their own staff’s needs for digital education and access.”

In the coming month, her Fellowship project will focus on integrating digital inclusion into all existing IRC SLC resettlement services to help newly-arrived refugees access the digital tools they need to maintain safety and security, access higher level education and job opportunities, and start adding their voice through content creation and exploration in the digital age.

Samuel Maldonado, Orange County Literacy Council, Carrboro/Raleigh-Durham, NC

Samuel enjoyed the opportunity to share and talk with others from around the world and learn about their programs. “I realize that is not only one effort,” says Samuel. ”Instead it’s an alliance that could change lives.”

Attending Net Inclusion was a valuable experience for Samuel. “I never imagined I’d have the opportunity to be seated with CEOs of organizations, with leaders who runs huge programs, and with founders and sponsors in this field.”

As he begins his Fellowship work, Samuel’s goals are to continue to learn, connect with others in the field, and grow the impact in his community in North Carolina.

Shenee King, CHN Housing Partners, Cleveland, OH

Shenee was a panelist for a session on Social Justice and Digital Inclusion. She presented on special needs and technology and senior parents and guardians. “I learned that this is a topic a lot of people are interested in,” says Shenee. “There’s a shared experience with school staff trying to fight for access to technology for students who have special needs. There is a lot of data to support the work we are doing.”

As her Fellowship project progresses Shenee says she’s becoming more aware of the necessity of the digital inclusion work. “I am encouraged by the growth of the industry and the ability to grow in the field.”

Special thanks to our Cohort 5 sponsors—Google Fiber, The Cleveland Foundation, and the Meyer Memorial Trust—for their commitment to bridging digital divides and supporting the Digital Inclusion Fellowship.

Connecting Kansas City’s 311 Center and the local public library system. Expanding a peer training Digital Ambassadors program in San Antonio, Texas. Launching a Spanish-language Digital Skills 101 class in Jersey City, New Jersey.

These are just three outcomes from the 2018 Digital Inclusion Fellowships that wrapped up earlier this year. In the fourth Fellowship Cohort, 16 community and public service professionals from a range of organizations—from housing authorities and community development corporation to libraries and city governments across the U.S.—dedicated their work in 2018 to develop and implement a project plan to create new opportunities for digital literacy.

“The Fellows in this cohort were brilliantly creative. Their programs were innovative in both design and implementation. It’s been a joy to work with people who thoroughly understand the importance of digital literacy and are so deeply committed to the communities they serve, ”says NTEN Senior Education Manager Drew Pizzolato.

Here are highlights of several Fellows’ work to create diverse, community-based programs that help to bridge the digital divide. To learn more about each Fellow’s project, check out the Fact Sheets from the Fellowship’s Fourth Cohort.

Build a strong (and award-winning) peer training program

Fellow Munirih Jester of San Antonio, Texas launched the peer training program Digital Ambassadors to help provide residents of the San Antonio Housing Authority with digital literacy training, computers, and connection to the internet. The Digital Ambassadors are trained on onsite IT support, and conducting small group computer literacy classes on computer and internet basics, email, online safety, and more.

For her work, Munirih received the Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Award at the 2019 Net Inclusion conference earlier this month.

New digital literacy courses and partnerships

In addition to providing one-on-one tutoring and digital literacy support, Fellow Evert Keller of the Austin Public Library trained new digital literacy specialists and coordinated the launch of a new series of classes hosted in under-utilized computer lab space. Evert also developed strong working relationships with the other digital inclusion workers at the Austin Public Library and across departments of the City of Austin.

“A fire has been lit on the subject of digital inclusion here at Austin Public Library,” says Evert.

Breaking the cycle of poverty with tech courses

Lindsey Sipe with Project LIFT in Charlotte, North Carolina partnered with Digital Charlotte to developed a six-week technology course. Families who participated received 12 hours of digital literacy training on hardware, Microsoft OS, and Office Suite, and job application skills. Parents who completed the course received a free E2D laptop and a Mobile Citizen hotspot with unlimited connectivity. 95 people completed the course so far and the program is on target to graduate 240 more families by June 2019.

“This year has changed my life, my social awareness, and my passion for the underserved community of Charlotte,” says Lindsey.

Workforce development + partnerships = mobile job lab

Anthony Hale of the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library in Alabama developed a two-fold strategy to support area job seekers. First, he organized tools and templates he collected for patrons into a resource for a dedicated job lab supported by volunteers he recruited and trained. Second, with the help of a grant awarded from the local digital inclusion fund, he launched a mobile job lab that offers partners onsite training for their clients and communities.

The strategy was successful both to help job seekers find work and build new community partnerships for the library. Anthony says, “We have forged several great community partners over the year. The best have been with the local Google Fiber office, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Community Foundation of Huntsville. The success has been the result of the library becoming a viable partner in local workforce development projects.”

The fifth cohort of the Fellowship is now underway, and NTEN will feature blog posts and updates as the Fellows implement their projects. To learn more about the Digital Inclusion Fellowship or to connect with a Fellow, email dif@nten.org.

NTEN is pleased to announce the nine emerging leaders from North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, and Utah selected as 2019 Digital Inclusion Fellows.

This fifth cohort of the Fellowship brings together these professionals from a wide range of service organizations, from a rural library to an organization aimed at empowering girls to use technology.

Launched in 2015 in partnership with Google Fiber, the Digital Inclusion Fellowship builds capacity and leadership in nonprofits to bridge the digital divides in their communities. In this year-long, project-based, professional development cohort, Fellows will develop and implement ambitious project plans in order to increase opportunities for adults in their communities to learn essential digital skills and will receive project grants of up to $1,000 to help launch their programs.

One of the Fellows selected for 2019 is Shenee King, Digital Inclusion Coordinator for CHN Housing Partners in Cleveland, OH. “Digital inclusion is important because technology is the foundation for economic mobility, staying connected to loved ones, and improving academic success for children,” said King. “Making sure that the most vulnerable populations in our communities are equipped, empowered, and educated to use technology to reach their goals is very important.”

Another 2019 Fellow is Samuel Maldonado of the Orange County Literacy Council in Carrboro, NC. “I am an example of what digital inclusion and the use of technologies for education can achieve,” said Maldonado. “I’m still learning and would like to express myself better in English, but it is not my first language and thanks to the access and use of technologies, I’m able to improve and learn every day.”

We are grateful to our Cohort 5 sponsors—Google Fiber, The Cleveland Foundation, and the Meyer Memorial Trust—for their commitment to bridging digital divides and supporting the Digital Inclusion Fellowship.

Heather Salters is an emerging leader in NTEN’s 2018 Digital Inclusion Fellowship. As a Continuing Education Services Coordinator for DeKalb County Public Library in metro Atlanta, Georgia, Heather is working in the Fellowship to increase and improve the library’s digital literacy programs. Here she shares her experience in implementing Technology Tutoring sessions, and the positive outcomes she’s seen thus far.

How does a cry for help result in hot dogs, high fives and hugs? The answer is not the punchline for a bad joke. For our staff at DeKalb County Public Library, it’s that each is an example of the excitement of patrons helped by the Library’s Technology Tutoring program.

Programs that help patrons learn and master basic technology is a staple for many public libraries. DeKalb County Public Library has offered formal group classes with patrons for several years. However, some staff don’t have the time, space, or staffing to conduct classes like this. Some library staff offer one-on-one Book-a-Librarian sessions, but they can be time-consuming and not always the most efficient way to help patrons.

How to structure digital inclusion programming

In retooling patron education programming at DeKalb, a team of librarians tried to find a better way to help patrons achieve their own learning goals around technology AND to help staff maximize their time and efforts. The team launched Technology Tutoring, a group Book-a-Librarian, similar to a learning lab, where patrons can meet their learning goals independently and receive help from library staff on their basic technology questions with hands-on assistance, recommended online learning sites, and confidence building.

The Library began scheduling Technology Tutoring sessions at six branches in late spring of 2018. Three branches host one session per month, and the other three host two monthly sessions. Sessions range from one to two hours where patrons may drop in for a minute or the entire session. Since starting, the Library has served more than 100 patrons at scheduled Technology Tutoring sessions. The wide range of patrons that attend want to know more about computers, tablets, smart phones, software, and other tech topics. Some know nothing about technology, whereas others know the basics but don’t have confidence or comfort in using it. Some have very specific questions, while others aren’t sure what they want to learn, and still others want to know it all.

The personal outcomes of DI work (hot dogs, high fives, and hugs included)

Here are three memorable stories from our tutoring sessions thus far with names changed to protect patron’s privacy:

Holly attended a Technology Tutoring session at one of our larger suburban branches in a more affluent part of the county, and she came with a list of questions. The first: how to copy and paste. To help her master this, we found a music video of her favorite song and taught her how to share it with her friends via email. After walking her through the process of selecting, copying and then pasting (even using keyboard shortcuts!) the link to the video, she practiced by sending Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah to nearly every friend in her email address book. As she hummed along to the music without any help, she exclaimed, “HOT DOG! I think I got it!” We moved on to other skills, like resetting forgotten passwords, and with each skill learned, she’d excitedly share a “HOT DOG!”

Hank attended a session at a library branch located in a suburban part of the County, was reluctant about attending Technology Tutoring and technology in general, and didn’t have clear learning goals. After talking with him for a bit, I discovered his daughter gave him her old computer, and he had no idea what to do with it. I explained how I used computers every day, that computers were helpful, fun, and mostly not breakable, and that the best way to learn was to jump right in and explore. With a nervous smile, he squared himself with the computer in front of him and said, “Bring it!” We started with a quick overview of the parts of the computer and what each did, and then moved on to Mousercise to help him become more comfortable with using the mouse. At the end of the session, I shared a few websites for learning more about computers, and Hank said he would finally turn on the computer his daughter had given him to keep practicing. As he left the computer lab, he confidently turned, raised his hand, and offered a high five with thanks for getting him started.

Hazel is a “regular” at the tutoring sessions at one of our medium-sized, more urban branches. She frequently attends, as do a core group of others, which is unique to this branch. She usually has a few specific questions, but often just comes for the affirmation that she knows the answer and the camaraderie of the core group. Hazel appears to be the center of the group and has begun tentatively helping the others by sharing what she has learned in previous tutoring sessions. With the holidays and a brief break from scheduled programs at the branch coming up, Hazel brought everyone in for a hug, which showed the gratitude and bonds that have developed within the group.

Holly, Hank, and Hazel’s desire to learn and their appreciation of staff helping them to learn and grow has been the best part of this program. Sure, Technology Tutoring helps our library maximize the efforts and time of staff, but to see patrons master a task, become more confident users of technology, and to share the excitement of this is truly amazing. It definitely serves as my motivation to continue with the program and digital literacy instruction.

Each year, more services move online, whether it’s voter registration, job applications, homework, or critical social services. For many individuals, this means it’s faster and easier than ever to get information, connect with friends, and access services that support their wellbeing. However, this increasingly connected world is leaving millions of Americans behind. With 35% of US adults not using home broadband, many of the most marginalized communities are increasingly being left behind by lack of connectivity and the skills needed to navigate online.

We have a shared responsibility to ensure that everyone can fully participate in the digital world to meet their personal goals. NTEN believes that every organization needs to recognize the role of digital equity in meeting our missions and is proud to commit to that work with our Digital Inclusion Fellowship (DIF) program. We invite you to support our Fellowship if you share a similar commitment.

About the Fellowship

Launched in 2015 in partnership with Google Fiber, the Digital Inclusion Fellowship builds capacity and leadership in nonprofits to bridge the digital divides in their communities. Selected nonprofit staff join a year-long, project-based, professional development cohort. Fellows will develop and implement ambitious project plans in order to increase opportunities for adults in their communities to learn essential digital skills, and will receive project grants of up to $1000 to help launch their programs. Previous Fellows have implemented numerous impressive and groundbreaking projects. Emma Hernandez, a Fellow in San Antonio, launched a hotspot lending program that allows library patrons to bring their connectivity home. She also developed a volunteer program that supported 200 library patrons in connecting with workforce resources. Felicia Tillman, a Fellow from Atlanta, formed partnerships to bring digital literacy training to uniquely sweet spaces. Read more about past Fellows’ projects (and get inspired to start your own!) in our Digital Inclusion Toolkit, program Fact Sheets, and blog.

Timeline

We are no longer seeking applications for the fifth cohort. However, if you’re interested in supporting our Digital Inclusion Fellowship as a sponsor, host or Fellow, we would love to hear from you. Email dif@nten.org

We are deeply grateful to Google Fiber and The Cleveland Foundation, our Cohort 5 sponsors, for their commitment to bridging digital divides and supporting the Digital Inclusion Fellowship.