Discussing access to technology

Blake Dahlin

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Ninety-five percent of people in the City of Seattle have some form of access to technology and the internet. The remaining 5%, however, are disproportionately from minority communities and those living below the poverty line.

Fair and equal access to technology has not yet been accomplished locally, let alone nationally.

To complicate the issue further, many people who have access to the internet have limited ability to remain connected consistently. These realities are at the core of the discussions about creating fair and equal access to technology for all people, across socioeconomic and ethnic lines.

At the Digital Equity and Inclusion in Seattle pane, held in Upper Gwinn on the night of May 7, the implications of the inequality of the modern digital landscape were discussed, and the Seattle Pacific University community was invited to ponder the questions surrounding equity in digital access as it relates to and affects the city of Seattle.

Richie Gamino, a visual communication major with a minor in information studies, attended the panel discussion.

“This is what we have been discussing all year. Digital equity and how A.I. is affecting people who can’t afford technology,” Gamino said, “how it targets them more than people who are middle class.”

David Keyes, the digital equity program manager for the City of Seattle, contributed to the discussion. He elaborated on the complexity of the issue of digital equity and inclusion.

“As we are looking at digital inclusion framing, we think of connectivity; is there access, or ability, or bandwidth,” said Keyes.

The Digital Divides Panel was in Upper Gwinn on May 8 | Max Briggs, The Falcon

“We think of skills training, ‘Can I do that or use that piece of technology?’ [We think of] devices, ‘Is my device working, and can I use it anyplace?’”

Keyes, and the colleagues that also spoke at the panel, surveyed these issues, and how they pertained to their unique work in the field of digital equity.  

David Keyes, Steven Maheshwary and Marcellus Turner are directly involved with programs and departments focused on digital equity and inclusion with the City of Seattle. Minh-Duc Nguyen was another speaker, who is the executive director of Helping Link, an organization that helps the Vietnamese community with ESL and technology literacy programs. The last panelist, Stacey Wedlake, is from the Technology and Social Change Group at the University of Washington.

The event was sponsored by the SPU information studies program and the Friends of the Seattle Pacific University Library, and was moderated by Michael Paulus, the director of information studies at SPU.

Students and members of the SPU community had the opportunity to ask questions of the panelists at the end of the event. A voice at the back of the crowd raised the question of whether or not there was current discourse about internet access becoming a civil right for all Americans.

The closing remarks of the panel discussion explored that question.

“Do we think digital access is a civil right? And the next question is how do we do that, how do we codify that or put that into our systems,” mused Keyes.

That question is one that will help determine the future of digital equity and inclusion for the 5% of Seattle residents that still lack access to the internet in 2019, and it is one that will remain central to discussions about digital equity policy moving forward.