Bridging San Diego's Digital Divide
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. Do you have the newest tablet? Can it double as a laptop? Do you have a smart watch? Are you thinking about getting Google glass? Many of us have, or are just about to get the latest, fastest, and most up-to-date technology to guide us through the day. But some people have seen a high-tech parade pass them by, and that is becoming more of a problem as technology becomes less of a luxury and more the necessity in our society. There are organizations in San Diego helping people get access to and learn how to use computers, and other devices. One of the most successful is the San Diego futures foundation, and I would like to welcome its Executive Director Gary Knight. Also joining me is Denise Nelesen with the county's Aging and Independent Services. Welcome to the program. Gary, we have heard the term digital divide. What does that mean, and who does it affect? GARY KNIGHT: Simply stated, the digital divide means that there are number of people that have not had access to computers or the internet, most of the time because of cost, or they have come from another country as a refugee and have not had exposure to technology. Our goal is to try to identify those individuals and try to allow them to gain access through either dividing computers to nonprofits that would put up a lab where they can go to, or help through low-cost sales to individuals to allow them to work with our internet providers and low-cost internet subscriptions to get on and take advantage of it. As you said, the longer you go the more behind you get. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What is the percentage of households here in San Diego that don't have computers or internet access? GARY KNIGHT: When we started six years ago on this project, the percentage was roughly 70% of San Diego families were connected. That's only 30%, but when you think about everything we do today, that is still a good. We have been able to close that to roughly 80%. Over the last six years we were able to gain about 10% improvement in that statistic the downside is, I selected group of people that are far behind that, at a seniors. Senior community is only about 54% connected, according to appear report done last year. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How good is San Diego at providing computer access to people who do not have computers? There are computers available in libraries, right? GARY KNIGHT: I happen to be the current chair of the Escondido Public Library Trustee Board, and we have about thirty computers, and there are sometimes two, three, four hour waits for those. As you go to a place, it becomes like a lottery, you hope to get access, but you're not guaranteed it. Having access in the home becomes critical, especially if you have school-age children trying to do homework and with everything going on my now, if they don't have it, they're not just getting behind, they are failing. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Are you saying that your organization provides computers to some nonprofits, do they open their doors to people who don't have access to computers and allow them to use those computers? GARY KNIGHT: We work with community housing organizations that have access to low income families. We work with libraries, and a number of churches. It goes on. There is a number of places that people can go in the community if they don't own one, and it really becomes a matter of how much demand there is for those systems. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And also how to get to those places. GARY KNIGHT: Transportation, exactly. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It is not enough to have a computer, you also have to know how to use it. What is our level of computer literacy here in San Diego? GARY KNIGHT: I don't have the statistic on that number, but I can tell you that one of our fastest-growing segment of training is in digital literacy. This is trying to to someone from the basics of how to turn a computer on, how to get online, and how to operate some of the programs we work with such as Outlook, Excel, or Word. If you have not had access or experience, the next biggest area is workforce readiness, being able to go and say you have experience on a computer and be able to demonstrate that to an employer. That becomes a critical part of people applying for jobs now. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That is a whole other step up. GARY KNIGHT: It is, but it is hand-in-hand. But today's jobs, if you think about it, where are you not coming in contact with the computer? It is prevalent throughout everything we do nowadays, so you have to have some skill sets. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Where are the weak spots in our computer literacy here in San Diego? Are the same people struggling to get access to this technology? GARY KNIGHT: Yes, very similarly, once you access you either adapt or you die. You either learn it or continue to fall behind. Was people have placed enough energy and effort into learning it when I have access. It's the ones that don't have regular capabilities to get on the computer who fall behind the knowledge base. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Denise, it has been said that it is becoming more difficult to get access to many things as we have been talking about, without having access and the ability to use the internet. How do you see that affecting senior citizens in the county? DENISE NELESEN: There is a lot of resistance to even learning technology, so we have to keep working on that level to encourage people to do it. They're missing out on being able to link with the physician by email, they're missing out on it setting up airfare by email. Like Gary said, the majority of people over sixty-five don't have even email. We are really having to work to help them appreciate the value of technology, and then you have to work with residential care facilities, or independent living settings. Many of them do not have Wi-Fi capacity. Even some senior centers don't have Wi-Fi capacity. So all of those things we need to be talking about and getting people up to scale, because as people get older, we are going to want to have Wi-Fi in wherever we go. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Exactly. The San Diego futures foundation says it has provided 40,000 internet connections. Several people and organizations? GARY KNIGHT: Yes, actually were up over 41,000 now. Give me six months and I can keep moving that number. We do about 4000 to 6000 computers per year in donations and sales. We have been in existence for over fourteen years. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Give us an idea of who you have helped. GARY KNIGHT: Some of the nonprofits, Ronald McDonald House, Susan G Kolmen, we've worked a lot with the monarch schools. We've worked with a number of school districts, a number of organizations that take donations and go out and set them up in school labs. We are currently working on a project in Vista, where they made available a site on one of the adult schools to allow us to sell computers at low cost to families. And then we have just started, talking about needing to gain access to technology, we started a robotics program after school for some students up there that typically are not the ones who get access to this kind of information. We're trying to work on a number of areas to bring technology and make them comfortable with it. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It must be very frustrating for the county at times, because I know especially your department for senior services, you put out a lot of information on the web about getting access to certain services that seniors need. If people who need those services can't get at them, it must be extremely frustrating. DENISE NELESEN: Yes, and that happens with all agencies. Everybody is trying to cut down on paper and put everything online, but for the vast majority of seniors, you can't do that. We're trying to figure out ways to help people learn. We are doing Get Connected fairs, we have been doing that for the last few years, where people can come to get a taste of technology and see how fun it is a, and how easy it can be. We have experts there to help them out, and we're having another one coming up in November 1 at the oasis program in Mission Valley. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I think all of us know that there are many older people who are very internet savvy. They have Facebook pages, they keep in connection with family members, this is a whole new world for them as it is for all of us as we go further along in the internet world, so to speak. You find that there are some seniors that are resistant to this, what is that resistance? DENISE NELESEN: I never had technology and got along just fine. Why can't we go back? The don't realize it is only going to get more into the community, societies embracing it all over the place, it is not something that they can ignore. Ten years from now, where is technology going to be, and how much further behind are they going to be? We have to work to help. You talk about older adults who are computer savvy, and we would like to link with some of them who might be interested in helping us with the Tech Ambassador Program, where it is peer-to-peer education. A lot of older adults feel more comfortable learning from another peer who understands how difficult it is not to have been born with computers. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to talk more about that, but first, Gary, in your organization San Diego Futures Foundation, you must come up against the idea that some people, whether older or not, are not really getting this or liking this idea of the internet. What is this thing that everybody is talking about? Had you ease them into being comfortable with this? I think all of us who are not children of the 90s had to adapt in some way to learn how to use this in our lives. How do you bring people to that point? GARY KNIGHT: It's usually through finding a common need. We identify, for instance, if they have to pay bills online. We start out with identifying that particular need and help introduce that to them and solve that problem, and that opens up to other questions about how to write a letter, how to send an email, and the list goes on. One of the things I will piggyback something Denise was just talking about. Going back to the seniors, one of the things that we see often, is that as we get older and our mates pass, we become isolated and alone. The use of technology is a way of keeping people connected to family and friends, and it helps reduce some of the isolationism, which is one of the most common causes of healthcare issues. And it's adding cost to our society, people going in and out of the hospital because they are not following treatment plans, they are depressed, not taking care of themselves. This was a pilot project of the Health and Human Services agency, Aging and Independent Services did a few years back. They showed by providing a case manager in providing technology, it helped improve the number of patients going back into the hospital, meaning it reduced it significantly. We look for ways that are important for individuals, and do the training to help them get past that, and it opens them up to receiving other information. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Talk to me more about the Tech Ambassador Program that Denise mentioned. GARY KNIGHT: First, let me give a phone number if you're out there and want to participate. It is 855-800-7333. That goes into the call center, and we are taking applications from seniors who would like to work with other seniors, you will be provided training on the basics that we will be teaching, and we will make arrangements, and it will be either at facilities such as a senior center, we may be one-on-one with a senior in their home, but we're looking for people who are interested in participating. If they call that number we can help them get registered and go through the training process. We received a small grant from the Consumer Electronics Association Foundation to do this, and we are really excited. It is one of those times you are trying to introduce somebody who is not comfortable with technology, and if you have a kid do it usually they are impatient and want to get forward. When you have a senior do it, you they understand what you're going through, and they are more patient. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Denise, what is the connection there, that people of a certain age will connect with each other when they are trying to approach technology, because they have the same kind of questions when they approached the internet and try to figure out what it is? DENISE NELESEN: To have an understanding what they went through, to learn it as well, because they are not natives in technology. They can finally engage them in it and share it with the seniors. You know, there is so much, it is still in reaching, and Gary was talking about isolation. We have been working on a pilot program for homebound older adults who have no connection to the community other than the person who delivers meals for them. We did a brief pilot, and it was amazing to see. One woman said, well, I finally have a social life again, to be able to link with others. We had a tech, we provided them with equipment, and they could get into a virtual class with other homebound seniors. They could connect with each other and make new friends. That kind of thing we have to find more options to do that, because isolation is, as Gary said, deadly to people. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What about helping people actually connect to the internet, pay monthly cable and DSL? Is there any place that people can go for assistance with that? GARY KNIGHT: We can help people sign up, there are lower cost programs that Cox and Time Warner's made available to us. They are somewhat short term as an introduction process, but at least it gives them a chance to see if this is something that will be of value to them and to continue. You can call the same number, 855-800-7333. If they call there, they can do one of three things. They can get information on programs we offer, they can sign up to become a Tech Ambassador, or if they want to contribute any other way, that is a way of reaching out to us. One of the things that we have been very gratified over the years is to see how technology becomes a unifying process. When we give a computer to a family, the kids and of teaching the parents and it becomes instead of television as the focus, it becomes a process of learning and adventure, in a way. We see it as a unifying thing that happens in many families, and the same thing with adults. One lady I was talking to, and I think Denise was referencing, her eyes lit up when she could talk about connecting and seeing pictures of her grandchildren and seeing them over the internet. She could Skype with them and see them immediately. That was a change in her life. It started to change her outcome and her health improved. It's a big deal. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: If you do have computer access, we will have that number on our website at KPBS.org. Thank you both very much.
Do you have the newest tablet? Can it double as a laptop? Do you have a smartwatch? Are you thinking about getting Google Glass?
Many of us have or are just about to get the latest, fastest and most up-to-date technology to guide us through the day.
But some people have seen the high-tech parade pass them by. And that's becoming more of a problem as technology become less of a luxury and more of a necessity in our society.
There are organizations in San Diego trying to help underserved residents get access to and learn how to use computers and other devices.