Digital Literacy Skills Not Enough to Bridge Digital Divide

More than just access, new technology users also need help navigating software applications.

Digital Literacy Skills Not Enough to Bridge Digital Divide
Photo of Janelle Leonard of NCDE

WASHINGTON, June 21, 2023 – Teaching digital literacy skills is not enough to support digital equity goals, said experts at a National Collaborative for Digital Equity event Wednesday.

Digital literacy skills for new technology users do not extend to all software applications, said Janelle Leonard, NCDE’s director of leadership development for inclusion. Technical assistance provides personalized support to navigate software applications new users may not be comfortable using, she said.

“One of the things we need to explore is the technical assistance needed beyond access to technology, devices, and digital skills,” said Leonard.

She argued that new technology users need additional technical assistance beyond their digital literacy skills to help them navigate complexities of online applications for telehealth, financial support, and other programs.

Leonard suggested that states look to K-12 students who are being prepared through their education to be a technical assistance resource for their peers, relatives, and community members. We can groom new technology users to be community leaders, she said.

When developing digital equity plans as required by the Commerce Department’s $2.75 billion Digital Equity Act, states must address the accessibility and ease of use of programs for all citizens, added Christine Fox, project director at nonprofit education research and development organization, CAST.

“Accessibility” means that anyone can acquire, engage, and enjoy the same things with substantially equivalent ease of use and time frame as those without disabilities, said Fox. She urged that the conversation about accessibility happens upfront when developing state digital equity plans.

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