By Paul Holston
Posted 9:00 PM EST, Sun. May 1, 2016
Approximately 1,800 (38 percent) households in Barry Farm, Hillsdale, and Historic Anacostia of Ward 8 do not have broadband service, according to a recent study by Connect.DC. Many of these residents possess minimal digital literacy and heavily rely on others to help them use the Internet for activities such as accessing government services, paying bills, and employment purposes.
Fortunately in Washington, D.C., a 48-foot converted bookmobile equipped with computers and its own secure Wi-Fi connection, is hoping to help eradicate the digital illiteracy within Ward 8 and the District of Columbia.
The Mobile Tech Lab (MTL), originally created in 2010 and re-launched in Nov. 2015 by Connect.DC, is proactively making an impact to their specific target areas of Wards 5, 7 and 8. Connect.DC, a digital inclusion initiative created by the D.C.’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO), hopes that through the MTL, more of the D.C. community will become technology literate in hopes of the growing importance of internet and technology knowledge.
“By talking with the residents of Wards 5, 7, and 8 in terms of what the barriers these communities had, they said they wanted people to come to them to assist in helping them learn,” said Michell Morton, program development manager of the MTL and project manager for Connected Communities Initiative.
Connect.DC also aims to increase Internet access and use by residents in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods in the District of Columbia.
According to its website, the MTL partners with District government agencies and nonprofit organizations to teach classes on the MTL and help residents sign up for email accounts, low-cost internet service and other government services.
Heidi Kotzian, executive director of Cyber-Seniors, has fully utilized the MTL to assist residents to learn about the digital world.
Cyber-Seniors is an international program with its goal to “engage youth mentors in bridging the technology gap by empowering older adults to use technology to expand their social and physical worlds.”
“What the Mobile Tech Lab does is as a partner, expand our reach,” said Kotzian. “So where you might go to a senior center location with one or two computers, you bring up the MTL and expand the number of people you can work with. They have 10 laptops and 10 tablets as well so we can reach 20 people as opposed to one or two people.”
Both students and residents of Southeast, D.C. say they are appreciative of the MTL coming to their communities to educate them on both computer and technology literacy. Jada Hendrix, a 15-year-old 10th grade student from Bishop MacNamera High School who helps as a Cyber-Seniors youth mentor, expressed one word to describe the experience: Interesting.
“It interesting for me because it’s something that I do everyday and its kind of hard to explain,” said Hendrix, who is a Southeast D.C. native. “[With that said,] it also teaches me to take it step by step and be able explain it simply to someone who doesn’t understand like I would.”
Southeast D.C. native Patricia “Patty” Gillliard, who is a senior participant of the Cyber-Seniors program, said that she has been trying to learn the computer for a long time. After going through the course, she expressed that she is learning a lot.
“I like a lot of craft and spiritual things…it feels good just to not have to ask somebody to do this [search on the computer] for me. I can do it myself,” said Gilliard.
According to the United States Department of Commerce, while 96 percent of working Americans use new communications technologies as part of their daily lives, only 28 percent of Americans do not use the Internet at all and almost one-third of U.S. households lack broadband service. With the MTL, Morton hopes that the resource helps decrease digital illiteracy within District communities such as Ward 8.
““Everyone needs to be connected in terms of the Internet and digital world,” said Morton. “It’s important for those in the community to become technology and computer literate because everything is going online in today’s world.”
“Whether through family and friends, and technology has changed how we connect with people,” said Kotzian. “I think everyone wants to be connected.”