Bridging the digital divide in our communities

23 June 2021

A senior lady with glasses sitting at a desk looking at a book and a laptop.

While access to the internet and digital devices is becoming increasingly important in our everyday lives, many people in society still face barriers when it comes to digital access.

To help bridge the digital divide in our communities, our Health Promotion team is working with community health partners on a Digital Inclusion program that aims to help our clients and community members to become more digitally connected.

We spoke to Heath Promotion worker and Dietitian Alex Salmon to find out more about the service, and why digital access and inclusion is so important.

What does digital inclusion mean?

For someone to be digitally included, they require the following things:

  • The skills with technology to do the things they need and want to do confidently and safely
  • Access to appropriate and affordable devices, which may include a mobile phone, computer or tablet
  • Reliable access to the internet, with enough data to meet their needs

Why is digital inclusion so important?

Digital inclusion is important because it enables people to live more independently and engage with the world in many different ways. It allows people to link better with work and employment opportunities, it enables people to complete formal or informal online learning and education, and more easily do day-to-day tasks and connect socially. It also gives people a voice in the things that matter to them.

Which parts of the community have the lowest rates of digital inclusion?

In general, Australians with lower levels of income, employment and education are significantly less digitally connected compared to Australians with higher levels of income and education. This demonstrates a substantial divide between rich and poor Australians when it comes to digital inclusion.

Those aged over 65 are the least digitally included age group in Australia, with about 1 in 5 older Australians not using the internet at all. People with disability have better rates of online access than older Australians or those on low incomes, but are still below the national average.

Because many of our community health clients are on low incomes, or are in older age groups, they are more likely to experience poor digital access.

How is the Digital Inclusion project working to improve digital connection for our clients?

We are working with other community health services, including Link Health and Community and Access Health & Community, to make digital inclusion a shared priority in our health promotion partnership. Our focus is on improving digital inclusion for social housing communities, as well as our community health clients.

An important part of our work is engaging with key stakeholders such as neighbourhood houses, libraries, local councils and community organisations such as U3A, Lions or Rotary across inner east and north-east Melbourne. By connecting with these stakeholders, we have been able to develop a draft resource that lists public Wi-Fi locations, free Wi-Fi in community facilities, sources of low cost digital devices as well as places where people can access low-cost training and support for using digital devices.

Once our resource of local supports and services is finalised, we will distribute this to healthAbility staff and work with teams to discuss ideas and identify opportunities for how we can support our clients to become more digitally connected.

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