Home › Forums › Student forums › Kirsty › Digital Literacy and the Homeless – an Issue Based Reflection
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September 13, 2015 at 9:20 pm #1981Kirsty RobertsParticipant
Digital literacy is an issue that I, like many others in this course, am very passionate about. It’s an issue that has become impossible to ignore and is essential for anyone just wanting to stay adrift in our technology-saturated age.
Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to attend the State Library of Queensland’s 2015 Digital Literacy Forum. The event was profoundly eye-opening and addressed issues from the role of public libraries and business (including Telstra) in promoting and increasing literacy, digital literacy initiatives and where they anticipated Queensland’s literacy as a state moving forward.
The session that really struck a chord with me however, was from my ‘Bridging the Digital Divide’ session where Dr. Justine Humphry spoke of her study ‘Homeless and Connected: Mobile Phones and the Internet in the Lives of Homeless Australians’. She identified that 1 in 200 Australians are homeless yet of the 90 homeless individuals participating in the study, 95% of them owned a mobile phone. Her study also produced two really informative graphs on the ways homeless individuals use mobile phones and the internet:
She spoke extensively about the necessitation of internet accessibility among the homeless and the significant disadvantages they faced when they lacked this access or a sense of digital literacy. As services increasingly move online – from employers only accepting resumes and applications online to Centrelink’s digital-specific platform – those without access, those who require it the most are being left behind. Lemos and Crane suggest that digital technology is often a “prerequisite for social inclusion and connection”, and in this day and age, I’m certainly inclined to agree.
It is for this reason that public libraries have become essential in bridging this gap by becoming what Thompson describes as “preferred venues for public access to the internet” and assisting with programs designed specifically to help those in need of support. The fact that libraries offer access to the internet, free of charge, makes them the ideal candidate for homeless individuals looking for work or accommodation or wanting to contact their loved ones or even gain digital skills. Services already offered in many public libraries, such as those provided to the elderly for technological support with their tablet devices, would be of great benefit to homeless individuals yet Lemos and Crane argue that the stigma surrounding homeless people and their bans from public libraries in both the US and the UK have created a “barrier” that has affected their ability to improve their digital literacy detrimentally. They state that the homeless often feel “unwanted, watched or uncomfortable in libraries” which results in these individuals actively avoiding these centres intended for vulnerable, disadvantaged groups.
Although organisations such as the Matthew Talbot Homeless Services have managed to partner with TAFE NSW to create an ‘e-literacy program’ – seeking to address barriers to “engagement, participation and completion in education faced by the homeless community”- there’s still a significant gap in the availability of digital literacy programs and services available to the homeless and it is essential that these individuals, and other disadvantaged groups, are not left behind in our perpetual technological race. With Brett Macklin, the operation manager of MTHS, asserting that “homeless people are adept and enthusiastic users of digital technology” and Lemos and Crane claiming that “homeless people are not at all digitally isolated” it becomes imperative that they’re provided with the opportunity to prove it.
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