Leaders from the Commonwealth’s Executive Office of Economic Development and the Massachusetts Broadband Institute announced the award of a two-year, $4.4M Digital Equity Partnership grant to Vinfen to support a statewide network of mental health and disability organizations, called the Human Services Alliance for Digital Equity (Alliance).
To read the full announcement, click here.
Technology access and digital skills are no longer a luxury; they are a necessity to access essential services, maintain social connection, engage in lifelong learning, obtain health and behavioral health services, manage finances, and participate in our democracy.
Despite the importance of technology access and digital skills, many people remain disconnected or lack the skills or financial resources needed to take advantage of all that technology offers. The digital divide is particularly acute for people with disabilities including people with serious mental health conditions.
Vinfen believes that every person should have access to technology and the skills to use it. We need new, intentional strategies and programs to ensure that people who have been left behind can cross the digital divide. Vinfen is working to improve digital inclusion among people with disabilities including people with serious behavioral health conditions. Here are some of the pilot programs we have started that we are hoping to grow and spread across the communities we serve.
The Lowell Tech Navigator program provides one-on-one support helping people purchase and set up a device, learn new digital skills, and enroll in the low-cost federal broadband program.
Here are some of the digital skills the tech navigator teaches people:
Meet Justin, Vinfen’s tech navigator serving the Lowell area.
Vinfen’s Clubhouses offer digital literacy training to help members learn basic skills such as checking voicemail, connecting to Wi-Fi, and using the camera feature on a smartphone. The program also teaches people how to use their smartphone to support health and wellness goals such as downloading apps (i.e., meditation, nutrition, physical activity), setting medication reminders, and accessing their patient portal.
The Affordable Connectivity Program is a new benefit program that helps ensure that households can afford the home broadband they need for work, school, healthcare, and more.
The benefit provides a discount of up to $30 per month towards internet service for eligible households. Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers if they contribute more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price.
The Digital Divide is the gap between those who have affordable access, skills, and support to effectively engage online and those who do not. As technology constantly evolves, the digital divide prevents equal participation and opportunity in all parts of life, disproportionately affecting people of color, Indigenous peoples, households with low incomes, people with disabilities, people in rural areas, and older adults. (Source: National Digital Inclusion Alliance)
Digital Inclusion refers to the activities necessary to ensure that all individuals and communities, including the most disadvantaged, have access to and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). This includes five elements:
Digital Inclusion must evolve as technology advances. Digital Inclusion requires intentional strategies and investments to reduce and eliminate historical, institutional, and structural barriers to access and use technology.
Digital equity is a condition in which all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy, and economy. Digital equity is necessary for civic and cultural participation, employment, lifelong learning, and access to essential services.
It is important to note here the use of “equity” vs. “equality.” When we use the word equity, we accurately acknowledge the systemic barriers that must be dismantled before achieving equality for all.
Digital Literacy is the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills. A person with digital literacy skills:
Source: National Digital Inclusion Alliance, Definitions – National Digital Inclusion Alliance; Digital Literacy Definition from American Library Association via their Digital Literacy Task Force