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The digital realm today is the gateway to so many essentials: health care, education, housing opportunities, social networks with friends and family, civic life, and entertainment—all of which can boost health and well-being. This was true before the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020. Now it’s a glaring truth and a growing inequity for the many people who are shut out.
Fact: Access and know how are vital to being a digital citizen
You can’t fully access the digital world without a tablet, laptop, or computer at your fingertips, plus the means to connect to the internet. Even with these in place, many still face the barriers of language and foundational digital literacy: the knowledge and comfort level that allows you to log in, navigate websites, join virtual platforms, share information, tap into resources, and so much more.
Working to reach those who are shut out
The Community Building and Engagement team is committed to helping close the digital divide—the gap between those who do and do not have ready access to technology—in our area.
We are focused on engaging directly with residents and inspiring them to act as peer mentors, who are ready to help others overcome technological fears and barriers. We are focused on advocacy, and on exploring both the policies that have contributed to the digital divide and the local and national efforts to eliminate it. We also work in partnership: Way Finders is a core partner of the Alliance for Digital Equity, a regional task force of 16 stakeholders working to enact policies and systemic changes to benefit underserved urban and rural communities in Western Massachusetts.
Springfield digital equity initiative: peer training
In Springfield’s Mason Square and Maple High-Six Corners neighborhoods, since 2020 the CB&E team has been connecting older residents with access to devices, information about internet resources, and supportive coaching from peer mentors. With such keys to the digital world, older residents can participate in our online resident leadership trainings, community meetings, and chair aerobics classes.
Holyoke digital equity initiative: one-year program
Planned to start in 2022, the CB&E team will offer a training program to 20 Holyoke residents, including:
- 10 residents living in our Library Commons and Carlos Vega affordable housing developments
- 10 graduates of (or participants in) our Resident Leadership Program in Holyoke.
A key part of the program will be a digital literacy training course, delivered in English and Spanish, aimed at increasing skills and knowledge. Participants without a computer of their own will receive a device. They will learn through one-on-one coaching and in peer groups—and will also then receive support to share what they have learned with the wider community.