Austin may have a high rate of people who access the Internet, but the digital divide still falls on socio-economic. Last week, an Austin nonprofit professional was awarded a one-year fellowship from NTEN to help close that gap.
This is the fifth year for the fellowship, a partnership between the national nonprofit NTEN, which supports other nonprofits’ technology access, and Google Fiber. Austinite Gabryella Desporte is one of nine fellows selected this year from across the country. Her job as a teacher, mentor, and program coordinator at local nonprofit Latinitas already helps Hispanic girls and teens learn digital skills to prepare them for school and digital careers, but in her work she found that it was often parents’ reluctance that kept their families from getting online. Her fellowship project will focus on the Hispanic parents of her clients.
The Austin native says many parents were fearful about allowing their daughters to go online and even accessing the Internet themselves. “This was something I saw as a pattern,” said Desporte. “Some of the girls didn’t feel comfortable using technology because their parents had been afraid of their using it. So I learned that it was also important to engage the parents in this conversation.”
In fact, in the city’s 2014 study about Internet use, privacy and security was the second-most common barrier for going online, after expense. That Digital Inclusion study found that while the rate of Internet use in Austin is higher than the rest of the country’s, 92 percent compared to 87 percent nationwide, the rate of people online in northwest Austin went as high as 99 percent while the rate people online in southeast Austin’s District 3 fell as low as 84 percent, where nearly two-thirds of residents identify as Hispanic
In the study, people offline also said they don’t see the value. Daniel Lucio, community impact manager at Austin Google Fiber, says he saw that as an NTEN fellow as well. Lucio was among the first in the country to receive the one-year fellowship in 2015. “The issue is less about a connection reaching them and more about relevancy,” he said. “They don’t have a concept of how Internet access can affect their lives.” Google Fiber will work alongside NTEN with the fellows to help each of them develop outreach, programs, and training to get more people over those barriers.
For Desporte, her project will include more ways to engage the parents of Latinitas’ clients to help them overcome their fear and also teach them the same skills the girls learn. “One of the very first lessons we teach the girls is about digital safety and being a good digital citizen,” she said. She’ll also teach parents about new technology tools like 3-D cameras, coding, and more. “Parents are great about volunteering,” she said, “but this will be a way to give them the same experience in a class.”