April 28, 2023
Leaders from the Commonwealth’s Executive Office of Economic Development and the Massachusetts Broadband Institute announced yesterday 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). The goal of the Alliance is to increase digital inclusion among low-income people with physical disabilities, intellectual & developmental disabilities, and people with serious mental health conditions. The eight organizations that comprise the Alliance are: Advocates, Behavioral Health Network, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston Center for Independent Living, Clinical Support Options, Open Sky, Riverside Community Care, and Vinfen.
Vinfen is one of three entities to receive a first-round Digital Equity Partnership grant from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, a division of Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MassTech). Vinfen’s Digital Equity Partnership grant will provide funding to the eight organizations within the Alliance to deploy 15 regionally based technology navigators to help people obtain digital devices, develop digital skills, and enroll in low-cost broadband programs. The technology navigators will work one-on-one with people served in their homes and in service settings. Through this grant Alliance organizations will provide services in 230 cities and towns in Massachusetts (11 counties).
At yesterday’s event, Massachusetts Secretary of Economic Development, Yvonne Hao, stated, “The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is committed to closing the digital divide and ensuring digital equity for all residents, as it is a critical need for citizens in the 21st Century. Today’s event highlights the many ways that unserved populations are kept out of this digital economy, with challenges around affordability, a lack of access to devices, and the need for training. Through these three organizations, we are addressing head-on the very real hurdles that exist statewide, supercharging existing programs and creating viable partnerships of organizations that are working on these issues at the local, regional, and statewide level.”
Vinfen’s Chief Strategy Officer, Kim Shellenberger, reflected on the importance of this grant. “On behalf of the Human Services Alliance for Digital Equity, we are thrilled to be awarded one of the first-round Digital Equity grants. In today’s world, technology access and digital skills are no longer a luxury, and this grant will enable our organizations to provide crucial support services to reduce the digital divide among people with disabilities and mental health conditions.”
People with disabilities are nearly 20% less likely to own a computer or smartphone and they are three times more likely to say that they never go on-line (Pew 2021). The barriers to technology access and digital literacy include lack of knowledge and lack of confidence in how to utilize the technology, as well as the prohibitive costs associated with purchasing and maintaining devices. When given the opportunity, people with disabilities embrace all that technology has to offer.
Technology can transform lives in the following ways:
- Improves access to medical and behavioral health care through tele-health. People who can’t utilize tele-health may experience longer waits and less access
- Opens doors to new employment opportunities
- Improve independence and executive function by using reminders and calendar apps to keep appointments, maintain a clean house, and good personal hygiene
- Enhances communication using text-to-speech and speech-to-text apps
- Supports mental health recovery by using specific symptom management and relaxation apps
According to the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, Digital Inclusion refers to activities necessary to ensure access to digital technology and the skills to use it. The five elements are: 1) affordable, robust internet service, 2) internet-enabled devices that meet the needs of the user, 3) digital literacy training, 4) technical support, and 5) content to encourage self-sufficiency, participation, and collaboration.
Established in 1977, Vinfen is a nonprofit, health and human services organization and a leading provider of community-based services to individuals with mental health conditions, intellectual and developmental disabilities, brain injuries, and behavioral health challenges. In addition, Vinfen has over a decade of experience implementing innovative technology programs to improve the physical health, mental health, and daily functioning of people with disabilities and life challenges. With over 500 locations in Massachusetts and Connecticut, our services and advocacy promote the recovery, resiliency, habilitation, and self-determination of the people we serve.
To learn more about Vinfen’s digital inclusion services, visit www.vinfen.org/digital-inclusion-services.
About The Human Services Alliance for Digital Equity:
The eight Alliance organizations provide a wide range of services including outpatient mental health, skill development and employment programs, group homes, substance use treatment, community support teams, homeless programs, transitional housing, and drop-in centers. The Alliance views digital inclusion services as an essential part of our organizations’ missions to promote recovery, resiliency, skill development and self-determination. The Alliance believes every person should have the technology and skills needed for full participation in our society.