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WCA to Host News Conference During Digital Inclusion Week: Bridging the Digital Divide

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. (September 30, 2022) –Digital Inclusion Week is October 3 – 7 this year, it is an annual week of awareness, recognition, and celebration. Organizations and individuals across the country host special events and campaigns to promote digital equity in their communities. This year’s theme is “Turning Our Moment into Movement,” signaling a turning point and time of action for the digital inclusion movement. It is also the ideal time to bring awareness to the digital divide in Westchester County along with ways to reduce the gap going forward.

The Westchester Children’s Association will host a news conference on October 4th at 11:00 AM at Pace University in Pleasantville in the Kessel Student Center, Multipurpose Room, and will outline some of the solutions they feel can help close the divide including establishing a County level appointee/position of Digital Equity & Inclusion with an eye to moving towards writing a Digital Equity Plan for the County as well as ensuring that the County has access to State funding that will be available.

It is significant to note that almost 25,000 households in Westchester County have no internet service according to the latest data from the US Census Bureau. Nearly 14% of people making $75,000 or less do not have an internet subscription. Those of Hispanic origin are almost twice as likely NOT to have an internet subscription than the rest of the population (2021 American Community Survey, Tables S2801 & S2802). For these economically fragile individuals, an online connection is a point of access to improved education, healthcare services, financial planning, and workforce development​​​. Since the beginning of the COVID Pandemic, Westchester Children’s Association (WCA) has been on the forefront of raising county awareness of the digital divide. In 2020, WCA’s Parent Survey shed light on the emotional and financial struggles of families to help their children access remote learning in a short amount of time. The results of the survey led to a Remote Learning Workgroup consisting of school districts, children advocates, county departments, community organizations, and elected officials.

During Winter 2022 WCA in partnership with Pace University conducted a second survey of Westchester parent’s digital access. There were over 500 responses. The results are shared in an analysis report titled, “Digital Access Survey: Perceptions of Parents in k-12 Schools in Westchester County, New York” by Sydney Moraitis, MPA Candidate, and Gina Scutelnicu-Todoran, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Pace University. One finding suggests 31% of the respondents reported that technology made their child’s learning more difficult.

Westchester Children’s Association and Pace University, along with the STEM Alliance and the Westchester Library Association, have combined efforts to bring greater attention to the issues affecting so many across Westchester County. The group titled the Digital Inclusion Coalition believes that digital equity is now a human right, but they acknowledge that there are barriers that need to be addressed including language, reluctance of partners who may already be stretched to their limits, finding neutral, safe, easy-to-reach locations where people can get support, and grant restrictions, to name a few.

“Digital equity is the canary in the coal mine. Your excluded from so many other things if you don’t have access to the Internet or the technology to access it,” states Limarie Cabrera, Director of Data for WCA.

“Equity creates opportunity,” says Margaret Käufer, President of STEM Alliance. “With jobs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) expanding at an accelerated pace, there is high demand for skilled graduates and the STEM Alliance is creating a network of learning opportunities to help inspire and grow the next generation of STEM leaders. Our survey show that 90 percent of our clients want to use their new devices to use and check email; 85 percent want to improve skills to get a better job; 80 percent would use their devices to look for a job online.”

“Our digital access survey recognizes that digital inequity is present in Westchester County in terms of student and family access to electronic devices, internet options, digital literacy, digital communication and experiences with remote learning,” says Sydney Moraitis, MPA Candidate at Pace University. “The survey’s findings suggest that digital access and literacy reform is necessary for all children and parents to be well-equipped to participate online and have confidence in doing so. It specifically identifies a need for digital literacy training for families of low socio-economic background and those of LatinX origin. I believe that conducting routine needs assessments for digital access and digital literacy should be encouraged to tailor services that provide for the specific and unique demographics of various Westchester County districts.”

Gina Scutelnicu Todoran, Associate Professor and Chair of Public Administration, Pace University agrees. “The fact that families and children from under-represented groups in Westchester County have fewer digital access opportunities than those who are better-off is not surprising. What’s new is that children and families from under-represented groups have different digital access needs. School districts and the NYSED should provide digital resources that are geared towards different constituent groups – whether it’s providing access to devices and internet, offering digital training, raising awareness about internet affordability programs, or ensuring multiple communication channels between educators, parents and students. Such an approach has the potential to narrow the digital divide gap.”

For more information on this issue and others affecting children in Westchester County, visit www.wca4kids.org


DIGITAL EQUITY ACTIVITY BY AGENCIES


● Westchester Children’s Association: multi-issue, child advocacy nonprofit that works to ensure that every child in Westchester is healthy, safe, and prepared for life’s challenges. Since 1914, WCA has been the leading independent voice for Westchester’s children by identifying their needs, making those needs known to the public, and ensuring those needs are met through advocacy and mobilization efforts.


● Westchester County Association: Y-Zone initiative providing deeply community based


● The STEM Alliance: Digital Equity Now & Digital Pathways program


● Westchester Library System/ Reconnect with Tech: Reaching 100 to 125 formerly incarcerated individuals through dedicated 1:1 outreach and digital inclusion services


● Nonprofit Westchester: Strong focus on supporting digital equity across the member organizations addressing these priorities and even in supporting the digital equity of the organizations themselves


● Neighbors Link: WCC partners with them on ESL education; used that model to help with digital equity work; have seen high correlation between people with low proficiency in English with low proficiency on devices/technology



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