The City of Seattle’s 2014 Technology Access and Adoption report found that there is still a significant gap in access to Internet and the skills to use it, despite the fact that 85 percent of Seattle residents have Internet at home and more residents now own laptops than desktop computers. Lower income, refugee, and immigrant populations who fall within this gap face barriers in applying for jobs, doing homework, finding information on services, and other basic everyday needs.
In order to address this gap, the Seattle Technology Matching Fund was set up to digitally enable communities that are historically underserved or underrepresented by providing essential technology access and digital literacy skills training.
The Technology Matching Fund is a grant program that awards up to $30,000 to nonprofits and organizations that apply for, and potentially receive funding for technological and community based projects. All 22 applicants that were recommended for funding in 2015 were approved during a City Council meeting in July. The funding application deadline for next year’s proposals is March 2016.
Those city dollars are matched by volunteer labor, materials and other services, which may be provided by individuals or organizations. One individual donor, a Microsoft employee, donated five Microsoft Office standard licenses. For more information on the Technology Matching Fund, visit http://www.seattle.gov/community-technology/for-organizations/technology-matching-fund.
One of this year’s awardees is the Kin On Healthcare Community. Their grant of $20,445 will go toward building the Kin On Wellness Program’s SmartLab. Through classes and open lab hours, the SmartLab is designed to increase technological and health literacy and help prevent social isolation.
Kin On’s Development and Community Engagement Coordinator Jessica Wong stresses the need to combat the digital divide Seattle communities are experiencing as too many are left behind unable to adapt to a constantly shifting technological landscape.
“We want to be able to, in three years, increase the technology literacy,” Wong said. “It’s social and technical—for technology literacy we want to help decrease that digital divide. On a more health standpoint, it’s about preventing social isolation.”
Wong says that many seniors in the community are at risk of suffering from isolation when they relocate from communities to live in Seattle but are unable to communicate with peers or family. The Kin On SmartLab will look to combat that problem with many different classes and programs including things like teaching seniors how to use the video chat app Skype in order to connect with their families.
Another awardee of the 2015 Seattle Technology Matching Fund is Neighborhood House, whose mission is to help diverse communities with limited resources attain their goals for self-sufficiency, financial independence, health, and community building.
Neighborhood House was awarded $15,365 for its STEM Studio program. In an effort to support 30 middle and high school age youths around the High Point low-income housing community in Southwest Seattle, Neighborhood House’s STEM Studio will be used to develop and implement a community based website, app, or podcast project which identifies the needs of the community in order to build awareness of potential STEM careers.
Neighborhood House Executive Director Mark Okazaki sees the Seattle Technology Matching Fund as a great step towards addressing economic disparities in low income communities and communities of color.
“We have to start young in creating the mindset for kids who would never consider STEM to seriously get excited about that, to set their minds on careers in STEM, to get them energized about it and to create real opportunities to create the skills and mindset to be successful in those careers,” Okazaki said.
Through a project separate from the Seattle Technology Matching Fund, but certainly sharing similar outlooks and goals, the City of Seattle provides free Internet services for local nonprofit organizations that meet the required criteria.
To be eligible, a non-profit must provide computer and Internet access and/or training to underserved residents, be located in the city of Seattle, and in a location that is serviceable by certain broadband providers such as Comcast. Individual businesses, religious organizations, political groups, universities, hospitals, and private schools with some exceptions are not eligible. For more information on the program, visit www.seattle.gov/tech/cable.
Comcast’s Internet Essentials program also aims to bridge the digital divide in communities by offering low-cost Internet service, computer equipment, and free digital literacy training to eligible families. For more information on the Internet Essentials program, visit www.internetessentials.com or call 1-855-8-INTERNET.
“Our Internet Essentials program means more people can access information and resources to enrich their lives,” said Diem Ly, External Affairs Manager for Comcast NBCUniversal. “What the City of Seattle is doing through their Technology Matching Fund is critical. It helps secure much needed support to organizations identifying technology access as a needed resource for their communities. We support that.”