There are many reasons why someone might be digitally excluded. In some cases, tackling those barriers to digital inclusion at an individual level will require a deep understanding of the wider social factors that the person is dealing with. Some factors put certain sections of the populations at a higher risk of digital exclusion. These include:
- Level of educational qualification
- People in rural areas
- People without English as a first language
Reasons for being offline
The interventions and support required to help someone become more digitally included will be different for a socially isolated older person living with a long-term health condition, a young person facing homelessness and an adult with learning disabilities living on a low income.
The reasons for being offline, the motivators for doing more, and the support needed to make the most of digital are always unique, whether we’re thinking about an organisation or an individual. Often 100% Digital Leeds navigates both of these paths as we look to engage an organisation with digital inclusion so that they can in turn engage the individuals they support. There is never one set solution and our approach is to help partners work out where they would like to be. Then we support them as they navigate that path, overcoming obstacles where they appear, and sticking with them until they reach their goal.
However, when we look at a ‘population’ level rather than an individual level, there are some common barriers to digital inclusion. Many people face more than one of these barriers to a greater or lesser extent and this ‘spiky profile’ is one of the reasons why digital inclusion is so difficult to define – and why interventions that are going to be effective, meaningful and sustainable have to tackle all of the barriers in the round.
We all know people who have been given a device from friends or family and it’s sitting in a drawer, unused. This is because the device is only solving one of the barriers to digital inclusion and the other barriers haven’t been addressed. The barriers can be broken down into three broad categories: access and accessibility, skills and confidence, and motivation.
Access and accessibility
Access to internet connectivity and digital devices is a vital component of becoming digitally included. This could be via a home computer and Wi-Fi, a phone or tablet with a data connection, publicly accessible Wi-Fi, or a library computer.
Devices can be expensive, and people who lack in skills or motivation may be reluctant to spend money on one, especially in cases of deprivation. Other solutions include:
- Public access computers
- Free Wi-Fi
- Device lending schemes
- Refurbished donated devices
These are not universal solutions however. Public Wi-Fi requires a device. Library computers are a great option for many, but are only accessible at certain times, are not accessible for many and don’t solve the problem of not being online at home. Tablet lending schemes can help, but are not permeant solutions, and donated devices are in high demand.
Even if a device and connectivity can be found for someone, are the tools and resources accessible? What support is in place if the person has a physical or sensory impairment, has English as a second language or has a learning disability and needs to adapt the device for their specific needs?
Skills and confidence
A lack of digital skills or lack of confidence to safely access the internet can hold many people back. Online skills training is available, but it requires a certain level of skill and motivation to access the courses, on top of the device and connectivity barrier mentioned above. Face to face skills training has been more difficult during the pandemic but is still possible with adaptations. In either case, people may need sustained support on an ongoing basis to develop the skills and confidence they need.
The 100% Digital Leeds approach encourages organisations to embed digital into other activities. In this way, people can increase their digital skills and confidence as they take part in sessions they enjoy. This also helps with the barrier of motivation.
Motivation can be one of the hardest barriers to overcome, and directly affects how likely people are to invest time or money in overcoming the other two barriers. A lack of perceived need is the leading reason for not having a home internet connection.
There are many reasons why someone may not feel motivated to try digital:
- The belief that it is unnecessary
- Belief that they cannot do it/it is too difficult
- A lack of interest
- A lack of time and resources
The key to overcoming this is a combination of finding a method of access that works for them, and finding the ‘hooks’ that will make it worthwhile to the individual. These can be hobbies, ways of making asks more convenient, quality of life improvements, accessibility, and many other things.
Another factor to consider is whether there is a relationship of trust in place between the person who is digitally excluded and the person trying to motivate them to get online.
This is where the Digital Champions trained by 100% Digital Leeds play a key role in helping people to overcome this barrier. Our Digital Champions are often staff or volunteers at third sector organisations that are already supporting digitally excluded people in other aspects of their lives.