Digital inclusion is now becoming interesting for a number of players. Government because they are putting more and more information and services online and rolling out their eGov strategies. Commercial providers such as Australia Post and Telstra who see opportunities and need to prepare for the digital disruption that is happening. And the big guys - Google et al who presumably want as many people as possible using their services.
Of course literacy has always been one of the main things for libraries. Libraries have encouraged, fostered and nourished generations of readers, and early on in the digital age we realised that digital literacy was going to be just as important as print literacy. And so libraries have been providing opportunities for people to learn about computers and online resources for a number of years now.
At the Internet Governance Forum in Melbourne last month during the Digital inclusion session, Robert Marcelo, Senior Advisor Digital Inclusion at Telstra told us about a recently launched index developed by Swinburne University and Telstra that measures Australia's digital divide. It has 53,000 responses and measures access; affordability; and digital ability. It is available at:
According to Robert, digital ability has become the "lever to best start pulling hard on." The Index shows that most measures are generally improving. The proportion of household spending on internet products is going up. Geographically only Tasmania is going backwards. There is now 3 years of data on the Index and the report can measure movements from 2014 - 2016.
The Digital transformation office which has been established by the federal government to rollout eGov has identified specific issues:
Seniors can be hesitant to use technology
Access, cost, training
There is now a heavy reliance on internet to get information.
Darren Fittler, Partner -Gilbert + Tobin lawyers, who is blind, said how innovating at the edges and designing for the few can have amazing flow on benefits. He gave as an example, the work done to get access for blind people to print led to voice recognition software that is now widely used including products such as Siri.
Sally Rodgers, Founder Digital Gold, has been active in setting up a community website in her small town. Community websites promote local businesses, and result in community dollars leading to economic benefits. Towns can get their own domain names. Grants are available through ACCAN to develop community websites. Community websites give people a reason to get online and improve their skills as they can easily see the benefits of being able to access the information on them.
There was a good amount of participation from the audience in this session, and the role that public libraries play in digital inclusion was raised and acknowledged. The issues around cost shifting in particular by the Federal and State governments to local government was seen as a great concern. Increasingly government departments refer people to their local library or even a Telstra office to get access and printing. While these departments can show great savings in going online, the costs are being pushed elsewhere.
The digital inclusion programs being sponsored by Telstra and Australia Post in particular were acknowledged. Victorian Tech Savvy Seniors is a good example of this. The program is funded by Telstra and Department of Human Services and is being run out of public libraries and coordinated by Public LIbraries Victoria Network. Classes are being offered in ten community languages as well as English to people who hold a Seniors Card.
2016 is the Year of Digital Inclusion. I have been invited to participate in an initiative being driven by Infoxchange to establish a national Round Table for Digital Inclusion to improve networking and connectivity, facilitate information exchange and also affect real change in digital participation rates. We are hopeful that by getting government, industry and community organisations together, that change will be accelerated.