With all the attention the digital divide has received since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the term Digital Navigator has become attached to the growing digital equity movement to ensure everyone has affordable internet access and a computer they know how to use. Digital Navigators are not new. A Digital Navigator (DN) is an individual who provides individual or small group assistance to community members who need low-cost home internet service, an affordable computing device, and foundational digital literacy training to make the most of the internet and its opportunities. Assistance may be provided in person, by phone, via email, or text within the context of a full or part-time position, as a volunteer, or within an existing job function. Meeting clients where they are is key.

At their core, DNs are empathic people who understand the impacts of the digital divide. They may have a social sector background and already possess basic digital literacy skills to help others. However, depending on where they serve, DNs may also require second language proficiency and advanced digital skills to provide computer training if needed.

Becoming a DN does not require extensive training -- most can be ready for work in under four hours. Good DN training should incorporate exposure to community-level connectivity and computer adoption data. DNs should also be trained to approach their work expertly but agnostically, providing information about internet service and device providers that do not favor one over another. Enrollment and purchasing support should be done through a secure internet connection to protect sensitive information such as birth dates and social security numbers, which are required for new internet subscriptions.

For communities to access Digital Navigators, organizations must develop outreach and awareness campaigns to reach the people who need them most. Word of mouth continues to be a strong messaging conduit, but above all, one of the most important aspects of DN training is developing trust in the community and with the clients they serve.

Email digitalaccess@thepattersonfoundation.org

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