Digital Equity and Digital Inclusion

Today, in advance of the plenary speakers at the National Digital Inclusion Alliance conference in Cleveland, I’ve been reflecting on definitions. NDIA define digital equity as ‘a condition in which all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy and economy.  Digital Equity is necessary for civic and cultural participation, employment, lifelong learning, and access to essential services.’ (NDIA, 2018)

This comprehensive definition reflects the vital nature of digital equity – that parity is required to ensure active and meaningful societal participation. In a Scottish context, White also focusses on the need for digital equity- reflecting that the issue is one of social justice. (White, 2016) This research highlights the significant correlation between
digital exclusion and a wide range of factors associated with social exclusion.

Furthermore, NDIA define digital inclusion as referring ‘to the activities necessary to ensure that all individuals and communities, including the most disadvantaged, have access to and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs).  This includes 5 elements: 1) affordable, robust broadband internet service; 2) internet-enabled devices that meet the needs of the user; 3) access to digital literacy training; 4) quality technical support; and 5) applications and online content designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation and collaboration. Digital Inclusion must evolve as technology advances. Digital Inclusion requires intentional strategies and investments to reduce and eliminate historical, institutional and structural barriers to access and use technology.’ (NDIA. 2018)

Of particular interest in this definition is the focus on the permanence: of the need for ongoing and resilient support in order to ensure digital equity. There is no immutable solution- but rather our work in the field must continue to develop, and training and support must always be retained for those who need it and who have capacity to become self sufficient in digital use. It’s vital also, in this context, to retain the permanence of need for assisted digital, for those who will never be able to become entirely self sufficient.

NDIA also refers to the possibility of institutional and cultural bias in digital and to societal (and class based) prejudice in issues of access and learning, drawing us again into Bourdieu’s notion of ‘The cultural transmission of social inequality’ (Swartz, 1977). where the digital space-instead of being the idealistically envisaged level playing field – is both inhibitive and exclusive.

Let’s work together to challenge that.

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