How Your Local Government Can Leverage Inclusive Technology

Lena Eisenstein
Advancements in technology have highlighted the importance of inclusive technology that's available to every individual and community. The United Nations holds that the internet is a basic human right that should be afforded by every citizen in the world. According to the United Nations, all nation-states should ensure that all of their people should have online freedom as a basic right and governments should nurture that right.

As much as the internet has opened up new worlds of information for most people, it has also left out millions of people who don't have access to computers and the internet. Individuals across the world are using the internet daily for business, hobbies, shopping, paying bills, planning vacations, healthcare, getting updates on their local government, and more.

The reliance on the internet and mobile technology is signaling the need for local governments to leverage inclusive technology to ensure that all citizens are in the know with their local government happenings. The reality is that all local governments have individuals living with disabilities living in their communities that need the ability to hear, see, or attend council meetings.

Despite all the advancements that the Information Age has brought, the U.S. is still facing challenges with digital inclusion. According to the Bureau of Internet Accessibility, over 100 million Americans cannot access broadband internet, which is something that has a bearing on economic development.

What Is Digital Inclusion?

Digital inclusion is a fairly new concept that addresses issues related to digital literacy and access to information and communications technology (ICT). We can get a definition of digital inclusion from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences, which describes digital inclusion as 'the ability of individuals and groups to access and use information and communications technologies.'

When you hear the term digital divide, it refers to access or the lack of access to ICT. On the opposite end of the scope digital inclusion refers to a practical, policy-driven approach that encompasses the needs of individuals and whole communities. Communities where the pendulum weighs more heavily on digital division than digital inclusion may be seeing red flags that it's time to create a framework to address the readiness of their local government to ensure digital inclusiveness to all residents.

Digital inclusion has practical socioeconomic benefits that enrich the lives of individuals and communities, as wholes. According to the University of Maryland College Park, local governments should consider the following three critical elements when creating an ADA-friendly digital framework:
  • Access
  • Adoption
  • Application
Access to the internet should be affordable for all and it should be available in their homes and with the community. Communities need to adopt a philosophy of digital literacy and consumer safety regarding access to the internet. From an application standpoint, communities could be working more diligently on implementing digital inclusion initiatives in community settings such as education, healthcare, public safety, and economic development programs.

Collectively, these initiatives and a commitment by local governments to be digitally inclusive will help to create a more digitally inclusive society.

How Can Communities Promote Digital Inclusion?

Communities need to consider the types of issues and disabilities that prevent people in their community from accessing the internet and solve the problems that inhibit their access to digital technology and the ability to participate with it. Governmental institutions such as schools and libraries are prime entities that can provide public access to digital technology including hardware, software, and access to the internet. Some of the same organizations also provide digital content to the community.

Another way to ensure inclusive technology is for communities to work towards improving digital literacy skills by offering practical programs and workshops as a free service to residents. Healthcare institutions, employment agencies, and local businesses are also venues for integrating digital inclusion initiatives and providing access to technology around the needs of the community. These are prime avenues where all citizens can learn more about education, commerce, and their local government. As disabled individuals and others that lack access to the internet make it known of their need to access digital technology, it creates an urgency within communities to become a community that is competitive and enabling.

Promote Digital Inclusion with Community by Diligent

In order to promote digital inclusion in communities, local governments need to bring themselves up to speed with digital technology. Many local governments are still relying on labor-intensive paper process to prepare for and manage their council meetings. Community by Diligent is the modern governance solution to addressing gaps in governance, improving efficiency, and solving problems related to inclusion, transparency, and security.

With Community software, all community members are able to participate in governance and the civic process including veterans, single parents, and those who live in rural areas. Community is a mobile-first design digital solution for local governments. Government workflows are predictable and transparent. With Community, local governments have a fully secure, digital, streamlined solution for meetings that supports agenda management, document collation with status updates and storage. The clerk can print the entire council meeting packet with one click. Digital automation ensures efficient publication of council member materials and meeting minutes. Citizens can then pull up any documents that are approved for public viewing by doing a simple search.

From the standpoint of community member inclusion, citizens can access important local government information via their laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Community allows for real-time, cross-platform annotations. It's ADA compliant, multi-platform, and its mobile capability encourages accessibility and participation for the whole community. Digital inclusion also means that local governments can leverage a more digitally knowledgeable consumer and workforce.

Community ensures public visibility from any device. Citizens can access current or past council meeting materials including notifications on updates. The tool has a full search capability much like any internet search engine functionality.

The United States is moving closer toward a knowledge-based economy. This is a solid reason why digital inclusion should be a priority for policymakers at every level of the government.
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Lena Eisenstein
Lena Eisenstein is a former Manager at Diligent. Her expertise in mission-driven organizations, including nonprofits, school boards and local governments, centers on how technology and modern governance best practices empower leaders at these organizations to serve their communities with efficiency and purpose.