Digital literacy is at the forefront of our modern society. From jobs and education to health care and community connection, being able to access and use the internet is a necessity in almost every factor of life.
What Is Digital Literacy?
Digital literacy is the ability to use technology to find, evaluate, create and communicate information. For many people, this comes naturally.
Examples of Digital Literacy
- Sending emails on your phone
- Using a search engine to find the answer to a question
- Using social media
- Searching for videos online for research purposes
There are disparities, however, between those who have easy access to the internet and those who do not— this is referred to as the digital divide. It is now more important than ever to promote digital literacy for everyone.
We cannot overstate the need for digital inclusion in urban and rural communities. It’s not just about having internet connectivity; it’s about ensuring everyone has access to the information and resources that digital technology provides for social services, health access, education tools, workforce development, connection with community and more.
What is Digital Inclusion?
The digital inclusion definition is the policies and programs that provide access to the internet regardless of race, gender, income or ability.
According to the National Defense Industrial Association, digital inclusion includes five elements:
- Affordable, robust, broadband internet service
- Internet-enabled devices that meet the needs of the user
- Access to digital literacy training
- Quality technical support
- Applications and online content designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation and collaboration
Examples of Digital Inclusion
Digital Health Literacy
Medical professionals have offered online consultations since the turn of the century, but more so since the COVID-19 pandemic, with telehealth services now becoming the norm. However, certain groups, such as seniors, low-income families and rural communities without internet access, do not have the training to take advantage of telehealth. As a result, many suffer unnecessarily, according to the Telehealth Equity Coalition, because they lack the “diverse digital literacy skills, including connecting to the internet, using a specific browser and email, downloading an app and updating settings for security. It may also require the use and calibration of computer hardware components, such as the camera, microphone and speakers.”
Online Job Services
Finding and applying for employment is mostly done online in today’s modern age. However, job seekers who are not literate in the digital world cannot use these services effectively and are at a disadvantage because they have received little to no training on how to use online tools in their job search.
In the new digital economy, jobs that historically never involved a computer, smartphone or app now do. Food service is one industry where digital literacy is now required to succeed. Education Week reported that “between 2002 and 2016, the amount of computer-based work required of cooks in institutional cafeterias increased nearly 700%, which was unheard of at the end of the 20th century.”
Students must learn early on how technology touches every industry and how to use the wide variety of digital tools needed to meet the demands of tomorrow’s workforce.
Job centers that evaluate digital skills should help willing job seekers attain such abilities. These centers must also provide computers and free Wi-Fi connection to jobseekers who do not have access at home, as well as assisting candidates in using them, to reach full digital equity.
Even though states offer online resources for voter registration, a large swath of the population lacks the skills to participate in democracy. According to a 2017 study by the Pew Research Institute, only 17% of adults in the U.S. are “digitally ready” or are “active learners and confident in their ability to use digital tools to pursue learning. They are aware of the latest ‘ed tech’ tools and are, relatively to others, more likely to use them in the course of their personal learning.”
Without digital literacy, voters have little access to information on candidates and issues appearing on their ballot, something that newspapers played a strong role in providing to their print readers in decades past, but now this kind of information lives online. This data helps to explain why over 41% of eligible voters did not vote in the 2016 presidential election.
How to Promote Digital Inclusion in Your Community
There are many ways to promote digital inclusion in your community. By giving, advocating or volunteering with organizations focused on equity, like United Way of the National Capital Area, you can help close the digital divide.
When none are ignored, all will thrive.