Covid-19-Closing the Digital Divide Gap for People with Disabilities.
This year’s Human Rights Day theme relates to the COVID-19 pandemic and focuses on the need to ‘build back better’ by ensuring Human Rights are central to recovery efforts. It is therefore essential that we put human rights are at the centre of our practical responses to the pandemic and that we don’t exclude anyone from these efforts-including people with disabilities. The lockdown restrictions and social distancing measures have undoubtedly led to a wide range of services shifting to an online platform. This is alarming for many of the population who have disabilities, as one in three are unable to access or use the internet. These individuals are therefore potentially further excluded from accessing key services, whether that be public services and online shopping for essential goods.
With the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions making physical gatherings almost impossible, progress has been made by many community organisations who have been taking the initiative to help close the gap in this digital divide. Here at Neighbourhood Networks, prior to the pandemic, we pre-empted the need for our members to be more digitally included and invested in a ‘digital champions’ skills building programme for members and the workforce. We, like many other community organisations that support vulnerable individuals, have had to find alternative ways to support them to learn new skills, to keep occupied and to connect with their friends and families. To assist with this, we introduced an extensive programme of digital activities which was in part facilitated and supported by the staff and members who undertook the digital champions programme. The timetable of activities on offer included exercise classes, bingo, mindfulness, cooking sessions, Friday Karaoke, a health and wellbeing drop in, a men’s and a women’s peer support group. It is to no surprise that as a result of the peer support and skill sharing from fellow members and from our staff, the uptake of the digital activities continues to increase from week to week.
It can therefore be said that digital inclusion requires our citizens, particularly those in disadvantaged groups, to obtain both the skills and access that enable them to use information and communication technologies in order to reap the benefits of technological progress. Therefore, to enable digital inclusion and prevent further exclusion of services, especially in time of global crisis, we must work hard to close the digital divide and involve people with disabilities in the design of technology-driven policy responses in a meaningful way or there is a risk that systematic inequalities will be reinforced. We must therefore learn from the early months of the pandemic to ensure that further actions proportionately support society, are inclusive and are in line with the human rights and equality agenda.