Friday, May 13th marked the inaugural celebration of National Digital Inclusion Day – a day to highlight and discuss the impact that digital access and skills can have on society, families and individuals. The NDIA, along with partners and affiliates from around the country, hosted an online Twitter Town Hall to address these important issues and reaching over 200,000 people online. The discussion came a day after the Center for Public Integrity published an article referring to the digital divide as the “civil rights issue of our time,” making the conversation more timely than ever.
The day was kicked off with a message from FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel about the the homework gap – a product of the digital divide.
The discussion moved forward with a series of thoughtful questions and responses, tackling a range of issues including the cost of being offline, improving technology access for people with disabilities, and even what the next president should do about the digital divide.
Q8: How can digital inclusion programs improve their service to people with disabilities (#PWD)? #digitalinclusion
— NTEN (@NTENorg) May 13, 2016
While hosting a discussion online may seem contrary to the idea of closing the digital divide, it facilitated two very important goals: (1) it connected thought leaders and decision makers with the everyday public and (2) it actually got people online. Relevancy and experience are some of the biggest challenges facing under-connected communities. Which is why many NDIA partners hosted trainings to prepare their clients, students and staff for the online discussion.
Thanks students @JacqueCampbell3 @CRYSTALBALL7 @McCluskeySawyer & more for sharing your #digitalinclusion stories! pic.twitter.com/HpeCCdEBdj
— Byte Back (@ByteBackDC) May 13, 2016
“We had a full classroom of staff and students at Byte Back on Twitter today. It was almost everyone’s first Twitter town hall and they all loved it! Thanks to NDIA and … NTEN for moderating, and everyone who added to the rich conversation. It was a great first Digital Inclusion Day – already looking forward to it next year!” – Yvette Scorse, Communications Manager at Byte Back (Washington, DC)
Many of these folks, like the Seniors at the Ashbury Senior Computer Community Center in Cleveland, were new to the internet but had the support to try something new! Take a look at some of these pictures of classrooms filled with people who are new to Twitter and Twitter Town Halls:
@peoplesrc bridging the digital divide #digitalinclusion pic.twitter.com/DjC2Z4V9PR
— Maryanna Milton (@mmmaryanna) May 13, 2016
#Digitalinclusion RI Family Literacy is ready for the conversation! pic.twitter.com/sQab5EDK7G
— Larry Britt (@techhumanright) May 13, 2016
#DigitalInclusion Day Twitter Town Hall starts in 6 minutes! MOBC is ready🖥📟📱 pic.twitter.com/lrZSuq1lcW
— Martha O’Bryan (@MarthaOBryanCtr) May 13, 2016
And the discussion was just the tip of the iceberg. In some places, like Atlanta, organizations marked the day by hosting trainings for digital inclusion professionals. Even public officials got involved, like Mayor Sly James of Kansas City who shared training opportunities and chimed in on the discussion:
Many residents w/o internet access must use cell phone hotspots which have limited data plans and can be costly. #DigitalInclusion
— Mayor Sly James (@MayorSlyJames) May 13, 2016
Here In Austin, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo presented a proclamation declaring the city’s first official Digital Inclusion Day and then kicked off a city-wide digital resource fair for families looking to get connected. Even some of Austin’s youngest residents got involved:
More AISD problem solvers at the #digitalinclusion Tec Feria pic.twitter.com/kjSPZLN9os
— AustinISD Technology (@AISDTech) May 13, 2016
While the day was a success in spurring discussion, the real work is far from over. A third of households in the US do not have broadband internet services, while organizations working to bridge that divide face constant challenges to providing training and resources.
The costs of being offline rise every day, creating a cycle of poverty over generations. #DigitalInclusion pic.twitter.com/wJoTfrUJJ5
— Mobile Beacon (@mobilebeacon) May 13, 2016
Looking to future years, I’m hopeful that Digital Inclusion Day can become a call to action. A way for every person, regardless of age, income or ability, to play a part in bridging the digital divide – improving on a formula similar to our neighbors across the pond. And I hope you’ll join NDIA in this endeavor!
In case you missed it, here is a quick recap of the questions and some responses from our awesome moderators at the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN):
1. Biggest barriers to internet access?
2. Getting internet with limited resources?
3. What about rural communities?
4. Digital Inclusion vs Digital Literacy?
5. The role of libraries in digital inclusion?
7. The role of Tech companies in digital inclusion?
8. Successful digital inclusion programs?
9. Improving access for people with disabilities (PWD)?
10. Advice for the next President?
Daniel Lucio is a Digital Inclusion Fellow with Austin Free-Net in Austin, Texas. The Digital Inclusion Fellowship is a national program launched by NTEN and Google Fiber that invests in local communities and nonprofit organizations addressing the digital divide.