“It’s like a lifeline really,” says Sophia Katari, Manager of Junction Community Centre.
“For many of the people we’ve worked with, it’s opened up a big world and helped them become more independent, more connected and less fearful of being isolated because they know they can reach out from their lounge room.”
Having the skills, tools and opportunities to navigate the digital world are things that many of us take for granted. But connecting with far-away friends and loved ones, paying bills online, registering for essential services or looking up public transport timetables isn’t easy if you’ve never been shown how to use digital technology.
“If you haven’t been taught how to use the online world, it erodes your confidence and can make you feel very isolated,” Sophie says.
Digital inclusion is about ensuring everyone can access and use technology and the internet to enhance and improve their daily lives.
The Wyatt Trust’s Digital Inclusion Grants are designed to improve digital inclusion for South Australians on low incomes. This is particularly important in the wake of the Covid pandemic which saw rapid digitisation across the community, exacerbating the digital divide and social isolation.
Junction Community Centre used a Digital Inclusion Grant from Wyatt to deliver 1:1 Personalised Digital Literacy tuition to local community members, focusing on individual needs and abilities. The outcomes, Sophia says, were life-changing for many participants.
“We work in a very disadvantaged area where there is a lot of social isolation,” Sophia explains.
“Some of the people we’ve helped with this grant came to us lacking in confidence because English isn’t their first language or they’ve come from a domestic violence situation,” she explains.
“We helped a Sudanese migrant who didn’t know how to use her mobile phone to make calls or access the internet, but now after doing the digital literacy tuition she’s practicing for her citizenship test on her phone.
“It’s opened up a whole new dimension to her world.”
Junction Community Centre also worked closely with local Aboriginal Elders who had previously relied upon their grandchildren to do anything ‘technical’.
“For example, we helped Aunty D, who although she was able to send emails, she was unable to personalise her mobile phone to suit her needs,” Sophia explains. “She was very stressed about not being able to pay her bills because she was fearful of catching Covid if she left home being elderly and from a more vulnerable community. We were able to get her to access the centre and get tuition from there.”
Karen Krestchmer and Om Kafley from the Australian Refugee Association (ARA) saw similar results from the Wyatt Digital Inclusion Grant the organisation used to assist vulnerable South Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds.
“A lot of our work is focused on helping refugees, asylum seekers and some migrants settle into Australia,” Om explains. “We try and provide whatever help they might need to fill the gaps and help them feel settled and confident.”
Participants in ARA’s digital inclusion programs ranged from older Bhutanese people who’d never touched a computer before to a group of people with disabilities who had low levels of English literacy.
After undertaking a personal assessment with participants to find out what skills in particular they wished to learn, Om designated different groups, found volunteers with the necessary language skills and tailored the content to meet the various needs.
“Some were very much beginners and we started with how to use the basics of your mobile phone, how to use Google Translate, how to send pictures and text messages to your family,” Om explains.
“From there, we built intermediate skills like sending emails, understanding cyber safety and using parental controls for children’s devices.”
These are skills that are more critical to daily life than ever, Karen Kretschmer from ARA explains.
“More and more services are online, whether that’s telehealth or government services,” she says. “Without digital literacy skills it’s very hard to even get a doctor’s appointment much less get online for work or study.
Learning how to access services was a critical part of the program, Karen says.
“Being able to use Google Maps or access MyGov rather than being on the phone with Centrelink for an hour and a half made such a big difference for people.”
“The digital divide is almost creating another class or barrier that prevents people from accessing support, getting a job or participating in study,” Karen continues.
“Without having someone who has the time to show them how to do these things it’s very easy for vulnerable members of our community to become disengaged and even more disconnected.”