Last week, we hosted a virtual forum on COVID-19 and the Digital Divide in response to conversations we've had with our grantees about the incredible challenges of adapting to virtual programming and service delivery. We understand that the organizations on the frontlines of LA's social impact sector are working tirelessly to serve our communities at this time and facing innumerable obstacles to doing that work online and from a distance.
Data from the Pew Research Center affirms that the digital divide cuts across both racial and socioeconomic lines: 92 percent of Americans with an annual income of $75,000 or more have home broadband, compared to just 56 percent of those making less than $30,000; and 79 percent of white adults have home broadband, compared to just 66 percent of Black adults and 61 percent of Hispanic adults. As a result of these disparities, the social impact sector is confronting the reality that those who are most acutely impacted by COVID-19 and in need of services are also the most difficult to access at this time.
Panelist Allie Bussjaeger, Director of Impact and Sustainability at human-I-T, shared that for this reason, digital inclusion “has gotten a spotlight” during COVID-19 as demand for devices, internet access, and digital literacy training is “skyrocketing.” Our panelists agreed that the digital divide is further compounding the social issues that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, from housing instability to educational inequity.
We're grateful to our panelists for sharing what they've learned on the ground over the past seven months and offering tangible strategies for combating the digital divide.
- Cynthia Strathmann, Executive Director of Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE), suggested that nonprofits use more accessible platforms like Facebook Live to hold meetings and events. Strathmann also shared that hiring a professional interpreter has helped to streamline virtual gatherings and proved to be worth the investment. SAJE also recently contributed to building NoRent.org, a free online tool to help tenants send a letter to their landlord notifying them of an inability to pay rent due to COVID-19.
- Amy Iorio, CEO of 9 Dots, described how the 9 Dots education team moved quickly to produce videos of its curriculum to enable asynchronous instruction and added new features to its online platform to make it more engaging for students. And, recognizing the immediate need to support classroom teachers, the organization took steps to offer crucial technical assistance and training on platforms like Zoom.
- Dr. Guisela Juarez, Operations Director at Clínica Msr. Romero, described how the clinic has mobilized its promotoras (community health workers) to educate the community about its telehealth services, distribute needed devices, and provide on-the-ground technical assistance. As a health care provider, Dr. Juarez also encouraged us to consider that digital access is both a social determinant of health and a fundamental right.
- Allison Holmes, Senior Director of Operations and Strategy at the Annenberg Foundation, discussed Annenberg Learner's partnership with LAUSD and Discovery Education and offered insight into the challenges teachers are facing during distance learning. Holmes pointed out that as we work toward solutions to the digital divide, we have to ask ourselves how we came to rely on these inequitable systems in the first place. Through uncovering and learning from the mistakes of our past, we'll be able to reconstruct better systems moving forward.
- Allie Bussjaeger, Director of Impact and Sustainability at human-I-T, affirmed the importance of offering tech support and digital literacy training after connecting someone to a device. Bussjaeger discussed the range of resources available from human-I-T for low-income individuals, as well as for nonprofit organizations, including connections to low-cost devices and internet service and accessible digital literacy training.
Thank you to all five of our panelists for contributing to this important discussion and sharing their insights. We look forward to continuing the conversation about digital access and inclusion in Los Angeles.
In case you missed it, you can find a recording of the live stream on the LA2050 YouTube channel