The Digital Access Series: After The Digital Divide

One of the biggest gaps today for individuals and families is the lack of access to a computer and the internet. While some of us have heard the term “digital divide” and know it’s implications there are key differences between having a computer and knowing how to access digital information. Within this gap lies the digital readiness gap that is unknown to many. It’s a gap the prevents many from properly accessing online learning materials, job applications and paying bills that leave many at a disadvantage.

The post digital divide stage is crucial to enhancing life opportunities for low-income individuals and families. Having access to knowledge and information at work and school is important for disadvantaged groups to explore new options not previously available to them. As Danica Radovanovic pointed out in Scientific American, that “what is important to emphasize is that these digital divides, that go far beyond the pure infrastructure issues, need to become a key focus of engagement for profit and nonprofit organizations as they continue their missions to develop programs for social and digital inclusion.”

Access to a computer and the internet are important, but the type of access needed to learn and use digital tools are vital as well. There are a number of governmental organizations at work on this such as the Department of Education’s 2016 National Education Technology Plan which, “moved beyond the usual digital divide perspective to emphasize that there is a larger gap that needs to be filled-namely, a “digital-use divide.” Learning how to use the internet effectively to one’s advantage represents a priority for them and other organizations around the country.

This digital readiness gap remains long after individuals gain access to the internet. As a recent survey from the Pew Research Center shows there are two distinct groups of people under the digital readiness gap. The larger group, known as relatively hesitant, makes up 52% “who are less likely to use digital tools in their learning.” Then there are the relatively more prepared or 48% “who are above average in their likeness to use online tools for learning. As shown in Pew’s analysis, these groups are affected by a lack of equity and inclusion in their community that is essential for being prepared.

Understanding what digital equity and digital inclusion means will determine how we focus our attention on this issue. Recently, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance presented working definitions for digital equity and digital inclusion. Digital equity represents the goals that “ensures all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity” while digital inclusion encompasses all “the activities necessary to ensure they have access to and use of Information Communication Technologies (ICT’s).”  Moving forward with this in mind will allow us to make better plans on improving digital access for those who are unprepared. What happens after the digital divide is just as important as what happens before it. Having an accessible way to work online, knowing how to use different programs, and preparing the communities we serve will determine the success of our digital inclusion efforts.

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