By Sheila Dugan

Technology has changed the way we do business, pursue education, and interact with everyone from our families to our doctors to our members of Congress. Yet, close to 1 in 5 U.S. residents remain isolated from our digital society because they lack access to the Internet and the skills necessary to use it effectively.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 31.5% of households in California are without Internet access. The rates are higher for households headed by individuals over 65 (43.2%) and those with less than a high school diploma (60.7%). 38.1% of Black households and 35.7% of Hispanic households are without access. The digital divide impacts some of our most vulnerable populations, making it necessary for us to find solutions.

EveryoneOn is a national nonprofit organization working to eliminate the digital divide. They deliver high-speed Internet, computers, and digital training to all unconnected U.S. residents. They work with leaders of a variety of organizations, from governments to nonprofits, to work on getting computers in homes and developing service plans families can actually afford. Their experience has taught them that community leaders can do three things to make the biggest impact in their communities and take strides toward bridging the digital divide:

1.) Mapping your community’s assets

The first step in closing the digital divide is to understand your community’s resources. Do you know how many households are without Internet access? Where can a senior go to learn how to use Skype to connect with their grandchildren? Where are the public WiFi hotspots? Knowing these facts will help you point individuals in the direction they need for support. Mapping your community’s assets will allow you to identify your community’s needs and develop programs to target under-served populations.

EveryoneOn understands this need and has partnered with libraries and nonprofits to map and promote computer and Internet courses at over 8,000 training sites across the U.S. With the training locator tool on EveryoneOn.org, users can input their zip codes to locate training classes in their community. You can add or update your organization’s resources by visiting EveryoneOn.org.

2.) Support local nonprofits already working to close the digital divide

Many nonprofits, government agencies, and community organizations are already working towards closing the digital divide by offering free Internet access, computer trainings, and low-cost refurbished devices.

Oakland has a plethora of organizations working to close the digital divide. For example, Oakland Technology Exchange – West provides affordable refurbished computers and customer support. Oakland Public Library regularly holds in-person classes, designed to teach people how to use their computers and navigate the Web. The Stride Center provides much-needed job training, allowing program participants to enter careers in the Information Technology field. Support these organizations by utilizing their services, spreading the word about their programs and collaborating with them on projects that align with their mission.

3.) Discover low-cost offers and figure out which ones work best for the people you serve

In Oakland alone, Comcast and Mobile Citizen have Internet service plans for as low as $10 a month to individuals and families living in low-income communities or participating in the National School Lunch Program. You know your constituents and can reach them better than anyone. The Stride Center can help you understand the nuances of each plan and select an offer than works best for the people you serve.

To learn more, you can call (888) 491-5982. If you would like to learn more about Oakland’s resources, feel free to stop by our workshop in Oakland City Hall on April 23. You can register for the event by clicking here.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland.
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