Editor's Note: Three essential elements—connectivity, devices, and skills/support—emerged 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 – An Essential Element of Digital Access: Having the Right Device by Kellie Alexander; A Seat, Three Legs, and Rungs by Avery Crews Prado de Lima; and Connecting to Close "The GAP" by Rachel Ploss.
In a world so connected to technology, access to digital resources has become nearly synonymous with access to opportunities. If you’ve grown up in a place with Wi-Fi connectivity, always had a device, and people who could teach you how to use it, you might not have thought about Digital Access or its importance. Or, it may have become apparent during the height of the COVID-19 lockdown. It certainly became a hot topic for many organizations and government entities at the time. However, the need did not disappear as schools and work moved back to in-person. Neither did TPF’s commitment to the Digital Access space.
What are the three essential elements of Digital Access?
The three essential elements of Digital Access are Connectivity, Devices, and Skills/Support. It can be hard to see beyond access and connectivity because of the glaring disparities, but connectivity, devices, and skills are equally important and highly interconnected.
What are Skills and Support in Digital Access?
Skills that were optional years ago in the workforce and educational institutions are now being required by employers. Northstar, a program of Literacy Minnesota, describes some of these requirements as knowing the following:
- identify different parts of computer hardware, keyboard keys, and audio features
- navigate and use different operating systems (Windows or Mac OS)
- navigate a computer screen or an internet page
- interact with a website using buttons, hyperlinks, and toolbars
- create and use an email account and follow email etiquette
- protect your devices and your personal information online
Why are Skills and Support in Digital Access Necessary?
Rapid development and innovation in the technology space means the need for continual support for skills and support training. Platforms and services like LinkedIn, X, Facebook, Outlook, and many more serve to connect both personally and professionally. Moreover, those platforms, as well as things like Microsoft Office, may be essential for work. Although the Digital Navigator Program touches on each essential element of Digital Access, it is an especially great example of Skills/Support.
Additionally, although the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) Engagers do not work directly with Skills/Support but rather Connectivity, they still serve as an important first line of connection to Digital Navigators. I have had the incredible opportunity to be trained as an ACP Engager and have conversations about Connectivity at outreach events. This experience has affirmed for me both the consequential impact of Digital Access and the outreach and education surrounding it.
Speaking of Digital Access outreach and education—October is Digital Inclusion Month—so be on the lookout for shared resources and events not only relating to Digital Access Skills/ Support training but also Digital Access as a whole.