Photo: DA4A 3rd Anniversary

Digital Access for All Turns Three Years Old

Posted on June 16, 2023 by Cheri Coryea, consultant with The Patterson Foundation
In June 2020, when the world was in a panic, and the unknown impacts of the pandemic were in its early stages, The Patterson Foundation (TPF) jumped into action. Dr. Laurey Stryker led the way as the Digital Access for All (DA4A) strategy was developing. TPF Fellow John Ferguson 2020/21 joined her, and they began mapping out a way to ensure that ALICE (asset-limited, income-constrained, employed) families would have internet access to complete homework assignments and obtain resources. To connect and share information, ideas, and strategies to help bridge the digital divide, the DA4A team created the Digital Access for All Resource Library, which now holds over 170+ curated reports, articles, and research documents across numerous digital access topics.

Little did we know in June 2020, when the DA4A initiative began, that a technological revolution was now underway and would advance technology in Digital Access five years ahead in just a few short months.

Regular engagement with regional partners in DA4A discussions about the three essential elements – connectivity, devices, and skills training/support – began with frequent virtual webversations in late 2020 and early 2021. These webversations provided the opportunity to use TPF's approaches of connecting, learning, sharing, evolving, and strengthening with external stakeholders, including people, businesses, nonprofits, government/education, and media, to expand knowledge in Digital Access.

Specialized training through a curriculum developed by DA4A consultants for Digital Navigators began in August 2021. Three nonprofit organizations were the first to pilot the program:
A Digital Navigator organization has staff that has completed Digital Navigator training and are available to assist residents throughout the region with accessing low-cost, high-quality internet services, low-cost devices, and skills training.

Utilizing the Affordable Connectivity Program, the DA4A team created enrollment events at housing and service centers across the region. In November 2022, we focused on Veterans with an enrollment event at Goodwill Manasota Veterans Services Office. Now, eight organizations have a Digital Navigator Program, and over 25 individual Digital Navigators are scattered throughout the region to assist individuals and families with their connectivity issues.

In DA4A's third year, TPF Fellow and DA4A National Initiative Development Lead Michael Zimmerman spearheaded a project that researched and interviewed over 40 different funders from multiple sectors in a search to find out their involvement with funding Digital Access in the three essential elements, resulting in a National Philanthropy Scan Report. The result of this work spanned a year and has culminated in 8 Funder to Funder Workshops cohosted by the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. Presenters from across the country and, in some cases, the globe participated in an interactive session with workshop registrants. As connective tissue expanded during the year, over 400 participants learned of these monthly opportunities, with an average of 68 tuning in via Zoom for each workshop.

While DA4A turns three years old, each day presents a new challenge. Technology never sleeps, and the Digital Divide deepens when we turn a blind eye to those that struggle with Digital Access. DA4A will expand its research on how economic development and technology careers can elevate the underserved community in the coming year. With more federal infrastructure dollars available to expand the fiber network across the country than ever before and a deadline to spend it, the DA4A initiative continues to play a vital role in keeping the stakeholders in our 4-country region tuned in to funding opportunities.

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