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How COVID-19 is changing our perspective on technology

The digital divide. 

These three simple words were unfamiliar to so many before March of 2020. 

Then came COVID-19, and these three words became an important topic of conversation.

According to Stanford University, “the idea of the digital divide refers to the growing gap between the underprivileged members of society, especially the poor, rural, elderly, and handicapped portion of the population who do not have access to computers or the internet; and the wealthy, middle-class, and young Americans living in urban and suburban areas who do have access.”

Recent research conducted by CNN discovered that nearly 15% of American households do not have internet access. Things are even more challenging for Milwaukee residents:

  • In Milwaukee, 23% residents do not have internet access.
  • There is a direct link between household income and internet access.
  • We know that access disparities are more prominent for people of color and individuals with lower education levels.

COVID-19 has opened our eyes to how important technology and internet service is to our community. Lower-income Americans who used the internet at their offices, schools, and libraries have been left unplugged while they are staying at home. 

This has a tremendous impact on so many critical activities including virtual learning, job searching, unemployment claim filing, accessing healthcare benefits, bill paying, and shopping for essential items, just to name a few.

THE FIRST STEP IS TECHQUITY

United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County has seen firsthand how the pandemic has affected the lives of so many. 

I am proud to be one of four co-chairs for this year’s United Way annual campaign. At various times over the past several months, we have had discussions on the urgent needs of the community—the main focus has been on food, medical supplies, cleaning products, and support for staffing, especially at shelters.

But we’ve also seen how the digital divide has affected the lives of so many. That’s why an important initiative was quickly established this year.  It’s called Techquity.

Techquity connects stakeholders from our business, education, and social sector to promote digital equity and inclusion via three strategies:  

  1. Access: Ensuring all families have digital devices and the internet in their homes. 
  2. Education: Fostering digital literacy and career pathways in technology.
  3. Innovation: Leveraging technology to accelerate innovation in the social sector.

Techquity’s priority populations include:

  • Households with school-aged children
  • Persons seeking employment
  • Vulnerable populations, such as those experiencing domestic violence or homelessness

The work of Techquity has already begun. United Way and partners provided laptops for nonprofit agency partners, provided laptops for students at 12 Milwaukee Community Schools, and provided 180 hot spots for members of the community to access the internet to continue education or to work from home.

REDUCING THE DIGITAL DIVIDE
If your organization has outdated computers or other pieces of technology, these pieces can easily be recycled and put to good use right here in our community. 

United Way is partnering with Digital Bridge of Milwaukee. Digital Bridge is the only organization in our area that is certified to wipe and reuse drives. They take all kinds of technology donations, refurbish most items for reuse. If they can’t refurbish, they recycle them properly with no cost to the donor. 

United Way works with Digital Bridge to obtain pieces of technology and delivers them to people, schools, and organizations in need.

But  the work of Techquity is more than just hardware. The initiative will support community-led programmatic investments in digital equity access, skill-based volunteer experiences, technology training, and policy and systems change action.

You can help reduce the digital divide. Learn more about United Way’s Techquity by visiting UnitedWayGMWC.org.

 

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Austin Ramirez
President & CEO Husco International 2020 United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County Campaign Co-chair

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