When COVID-19 hit the United States earlier this year, our world transitioned to a virtual one almost overnight with the Internet and computers suddenly becoming the main platforms for work, school, support services, healthcare, and staying connected with loved ones. The sudden necessity of high-speed broadband, Wi-Fi, laptops, and tablets highlighted the stark differentiation between those with these resources and those without.
This gap between access to the virtual world and virtual invisibility – better known as the digital divide – is not new, but has been both spotlighted and exacerbated by the pandemic as the cornerstones of our society transitioned into online-only institutions. Like COVID-19, the digital divide disproportionately impacts people of color, families living in low-income situations, and rural communities. For a better idea of just how deep the digital divide cuts, consider these findings from the Alliance for Excellent Education:
- 16.9 million children lack the high-speed home Internet access necessary to support online learning.
- 7.3 million children do not have a tablet, laptop, or desktop computer.
- One in three Black, Latino, and Native American families does not have high-speed home Internet.
- One in three families earning less than $50,000 annually does not have high-speed home Internet.
- Two in five families in rural areas do not have high-speed home Internet.
The digital divide is deepening as technology goes from being an amplifier of education to an absolute necessity.”
– Danielle Holly, CEO, Common Impact
The digital divide places a burden not only on students and our educational institutions, but on the millions in precarious living environments. For those who rely on government or nonprofit support for food, medical care, housing, and job placement assistance, the digital divide has meant not being able to access resources, changes in programming, or additional forms of support. Telehealth is inaccessible without reliable Internet and devices, as are filing for unemployment and seeking new work opportunities. For senior citizens, COVID-19 shutdowns have cut off vital programming and forced many into isolation in their homes, resulting in mental and physical health risks
The digital divide is not simply a technology issue. It’s an issue of equity, education, healthcare, mental health services, and workforce development. And it’s one that we can only solve together. The goal is not just to address current challenges, but rather to identify and solve for systemic inequities that have maintained the digital divide as a pillar of inequality in this country. Cross-sector partnerships between companies, nonprofits, schools, and government have already proven successful in addressing the challenges amplified as a part of the pandemic and will prove to be a necessity in continued efforts to see true change.
To learn how your organization can tap into the power of pro bono to address the digital divide in education, human services, healthcare, and more, access our COVID-19 Nonprofit Impact Report or reach out to us at [email protected].