Kimberly Rogers started her talk with an informal survey. If you can answer “yes” to any of these questions, she said, stand up.
Have you checked your bank account without going to the bank in the last week? Have you used the Internet to comparison shop? Have you used the web to look for a job?
Everyone in the room — more than 120 digital literacy professionals — was standing by the time Rogers finished. At a conference on how the city is fighting poverty through digital literacy, Rogers, a financial counselor at the Financial Empowerment Center, had made her point.
“We are not sharing our prosperity,” she said, referring to the city’s poverty rate of 26.9 percent, the highest of all big U.S. cities. “We’re like kids playing with a shiny new toy, except these aren’t toys.”
She continued: “We understand the importance of technology. So the question now becomes, can we help [those living in poverty] move from having a sustainable life to actually living their life?”
It was a question that the conference, hosted by the Technology Learning Collaborative, centered on. A professional network of local digital literacy professionals, the Technology Learning Collaborative grew out of the city’s public computing program KEYSPOT. The conference aimed to discuss how digital literacy intersected with the city’s new plan to fight poverty called Shared Prosperity. The Technology Learning Collaborative plans to hold a conference each year, as well as monthly member meetings, said Jennifer Donsky, Public Services Technology Coordinator of the Free Library of Philadelphia.
During the morning session of the conference, a handful of representatives from local organizations presented on the work they do.
Speaking about her research, Temple professor Karin Eyrich Garg said that it’s common for “street” homeless people, or those who don’t live in a shelter, to have cell phones. In 2009, she surveyed 100 homeless people and 44 reported having cell phones. That number jumped to 81 percent when she repeated the study with a smaller sample size (21 people) in 2013.
Additionally, in 2009, she found that 70 percent of those surveyed said they had access to a computer. In 2013, all of the respondents had access to the a computer, though Garg noted that the survey was given through a computer so access was necessary to participate. Her findings were so surprising, Garg said, that the National Institute of Health did not believe them.-30-
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