Closing language barriers and the digital divide in Gateway Cities

Gateways Podcast Episode 57

Closing language barriers and the digital divide in Gateway Cities

This week on Gateways, we examine two obstacles preventing many members of our Commonwealth from accessing what they need during the coronavirus crisis.

First, Dan Noyes, co-CEO of Tech Goes Home, describes lessons from his experience working to close the digital divide. His Boston-based nonprofit provides training, devices, and internet access to low-income families, students, and the elderly, who need these tools now more than ever.
Next, Helena DaSilva, executive director of the Immigrants Assistance Center, and Eva Millona, CEO of the Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition, join Ben to share what they hear from members of the immigrant community who are struggling to access vital information and services.

Excerpted transcript below

On the digital divide with Dan Noyes, co-CEO of Tech Goes Home

Ben [00:02:57] All right, so Dan, thank you again for taking the time to talk with us on Gateways. You’ve got a lot of knowledge that we want to help get out there, because I think this issue of the digital divide is something we haven’t thought on enough about in the context of our gateway cities. We always think about it as the Berkshires and, you know, the investment in broadband that has been made over the years to increase connectivity out there. And then lo and behold, I look at some census figures the other day in find out that, you know, a quarter, a third or more of families in our gateway cities don’t have computers at home, don’t have Internet at home. And then I’m sure, as you want to talk about, as just the digital literacy. So why do we take those one by one? Maybe start we’ll start with the devices. You know, a lot of people have smartphones nowadays, but especially when we’re talking about opportunity gaps and remote learning.

Ben [00:03:50] You know, is a smartphone or tablet enough?

Dan [00:03:53] I think one of the things that has really hindered us moving towards fixing this problem is assumptions that people make just the general public is that if you don’t perceive a problem, then why would you try to address it?

Dan [00:04:08] I think there’s been a number of us for years who have been screaming from the rooftops like this is a major crisis, this digital inequity that exists. And it’s strangely ironic that it took a pandemic for it to come out in the open. So to your point about access, yeah, the smartphone thing is it is a question that we often get on. A smartphone is an incredible device. I mean, it’s a device that didn’t exist 20 years ago.

Dan [00:04:34] Everyone who uses one uses it for lots of things and does amazing stuff, but you can’t write a 30 page paper on it or a 10 page essay for school. You– it’s so hard to do a resumé on a phone and apply for a job or if you have a disability or if you are a senior or for whatever reason you struggle with small screens. It just it’s limited. It surges as well.

Ben [00:05:02] And what about the applications that schools are using? I mean, did they work on a smartphone or even a tablet?

Dan [00:05:09] So like I have a nine-year-old daughter who is in third grade and she uses Google classroom and all of the other apps that go with it for math, science and reading, ELA, all of that. And I was curious.

Dan [00:05:21] So I had to log in on my phone to look at it. And my God, is it is a completely different perspective than when you’re looking at a, you know, 11 inch screen of an iPad or a thirteen or fifteen inch screen of a computer. It is so much more difficult to navigate, especially if you’ve never done it before. And I think this is the key on so much of this is that there just isn’t enough training out there, not only for families, but for kids, too. So it is– we need more of that.

Listen to Ben and Dan’s full conversation:

On language access with Helena DaSilva of Immigrants Assistance Center and Eva Millona of the MIRA Coalition

Eva [00:23:55] …This is a wakeup call for Massachusetts. Looking into one of the major issues is the language access. And that is one thing that the immigrant and refugee community, it’s in desperate need for, for improvement. Boston stands out for recognizing inequities and trying to address them head on.

Helena [00:30:19] We, you know, when we look at our fishing industry, we have a lot of that population, are working in fish houses. And many of them are they are not practicing the social distancing and PPE that everyone’s talking about. And we know that directly from them because they call us. And one of my biggest concerns that I have had is with the testing is that New Bedford will not see a surge. Even though we have going up until we start testing the fish houses. So working closely with South Coast Health, the greater New Bedford Health Center, to make sure that there’s a test. Now, this seems like there’s going to be more testing available. We need to start testing the fish houses because we know that this population are also going home and they’re sharing five, six, seven people into US households. So social distancing is not happening with this population. So that is a huge concern. And we know that they don’t have access to unemployment. They are not going to because they don’t have a Social Security number. So that is also another huge concern. So that’s something that we’re seeing and we’re facing.

Helena [00:31:57] The families are really getting the information from television and radio. So we’re doing some work with Telemundo in Providence, Latina. We’ve done with WJFD, The Voice of the Immigrant. We’ve done– I mean, that’s how I’ve been really, really occupying myself has been media and really being on task forces and making sure that we’re basically speaking about the guidelines of CDC.

Eva [00:34:13] So one thing is that the state also needs to come up with an emergency fund to really help the most vulnerable families. The governor and the first lady created a fund, a relief fund, the COVID-19 relief fund that has over $20 million. We’re very grateful that, you know, this is available will be available, but it’s nearly not enough to meet the need across the state. So we’re calling on our Massachusetts legislature to really come up with and work with the governor, to come up with different ideas and funds, relief of funds to help vulnerable families without excluding those who pay taxes with the ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number).

Eva [00:41:33] I think what also would be very helpful in this time of crisis is for Massachusetts legislature to pass the sick leave bill to ensure that essential work workers are forced to work even when they are sick or they need to care for the family members. Massachusetts has a particularly strong aren’t sick time law, but the 40 hours that it provides does don’t meet the scale of the crisis.

Listen to Ben, Helena and Eva’s full conversation:

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