Photo: Stack of old computers

An Essential Element of Digital Access: Having the Right Device

Posted on September 20, 2023 by Kellie Alexander, TPF Fellow 2022/24

Editor's Note: Three essential elementsconnectivity, devices, and skills/supportemerged as critically important through The Patterson Foundation’s in-depth research and interviews with national thought-leaders in digital access. To dive deeper, read these contributions by participants in TPF's Fellows Program – Empowering Digital Inclusion: The Role of Skills and Support Training in Digital Access by Alexa Carr; A Seat, Three Legs, and Rungs by Avery Crews Prado de Lima; and Connecting to Close "The GAP" by Rachel Ploss.


My very first job in high school was summer tech help with the technology team at my school. While I didn’t know much, as we still had dial-up internet at home, I told myself it had to be better than washing school buses. Our public school had just purchased Chromebooks, and the tech team was tasked with setting up each individual device with administrative features, firewall protection, and other necessary items. For the next few summers, I fixed computer bugs, ensured Chromebook updates, and cycled old devices with new ones. Reflecting, I realize how grateful I am to have received that opportunity and how incredibly fast the device landscape evolved.

For instance, on what device are you reading this blog? Is it a laptop or a mobile phone? A desktop or an iPad? It’s probably not a Chromebook, right? Regardless, each is considered a device and a tool to connect to the rest of the world, the news, your job, and your education.

Devices are one of the three essential elements of digital access determined through research done by The Patterson Foundation’s (TPF) Digital Access for All (DA4A) initiative. However, this doesn’t mean just having a device. It means having the right machine for one’s needs. While you may be able to read this blog just fine on your mobile phone, there are many actions that your smartphone cannot support effectively: hosting or participating in a Zoom meeting, uploading documents for a food stamp application, or writing and submitting a thesis paper. Having a cell phone is no longer enough.

During COVID shutdowns, many experienced what it was like not having the right device as we traveled home and transitioned to devices without microphones and webcams. While my laptop was a device, it wasn’t the right device for my online work and education needs. Upon enrolling in my master’s degree online and thanks to scholarships, I opted to purchase a desktop computer, complete with a large screen, built-in camera, and cordless keyboard and mouse.

Let me note here that several barriers to devices should not go unnoticed. While scholarships allowed me to get the right device, many families are overwhelmed by cost and options. While there are refurbishers and low-cost options, many individuals do not know where to start. In addition, while my current desktop is only utilized by myself and occasionally by my spouse, many families may share one desktop or laptop, which is not conducive to their work and school needs.

It’s a myth that everyone has a device. Thousands of people in our four-county region do not. When considering the importance of digital access, DA4A encourages attention to connectivity, skills/support, and devices. Each of these “legs” makes digital access possible. Learn more about the “three legs of the stool” on TPF’s website here.

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