Ottawa equity groups work to bridge ‘digital divide’

An overhead image of a desk with multiple devices on it. Hands are seen typing and there are cups of coffee, and cables strewn across the table.Unequal access to reliable internet connection, unequal access to devices and unequal digital literacy are three huge contributors to digital inequity, according to Asare. Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash.

Community, COVID-19

Providing access to the digital space is an initiative that the Social Planning council of Ottawa (SPCO) and National Capital Freenet (NCF) have been working on since before the COVID-19 pandemic. The “digital divide” is what inspired these organizations to begin this work.

“The digital divide is the gap between those who have access to resources to be able to participate digitally fully, and those who do not,” said Andrew Martey Asare, who works with the NCF.

Asare said there needs to be work to bridge the digital divide because employment, education and even health services are increasingly utilizing digital platforms.

“If we’ve learned anything from COVID-19, I think we can agree it’s this,” Asare said.

SPCO and NCF launched their digital support programs to build digital equity. Asare said digital equity is when everyone can be able to have full digital participation. Asare said he’s working for every person in Canada to be able to access the digital space equally.

“Those who are able to connect and be online and participate online differs quite significantly based on income,” Asare said. “Those with a lower income tend to have more challenges with connectivity, devices, etc.”

The SPCO and NCF have services to provide subsidized connectivity plans for those in community housing, among other services. Asare said the two organizations work together to provide devices and teach digital literacy to those who need it.

Asare said he appreciates the work being done not just by SPCO and NCF but other groups in Ottawa. He pointed to Ottawa libraries and school boards that allow for free or cheap access to devices. But he believes there is still more to be done.

“Part of what I would hope to see is better collaboration,” Asare said, “so there is not too much duplication of effort. Also, I would like to get a clearer picture of what the need is.”

Asare said that bridging the digital divide is just one way the City of Ottawa can address inequities present here.

“I think it’s good for cities around the country but specifically for Ottawa, to look at neighbourhoods that have high inequity and provide solutions to those neighbourhoods,” Asare said.

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