Many residents doomed by minimal technology access (L.A. PARKER COLUMN) | News

Bill Mount

Aretha Franklin’s Who’s Zoomin’ (Who)? invades each mention of Zoom hookups. As COVID-19 reaches a one-year mark with 500,000 U.S. deaths recorded, here’s the distinct reality from our pandemic year — being disconnected from technology offers severe disadvantages. No computer, no cellular phone, no laptops, tablets or other devices, no […]

Aretha Franklin’s Who’s Zoomin’ (Who)? invades each mention of Zoom hookups.

As COVID-19 reaches a one-year mark with 500,000 U.S. deaths recorded, here’s the distinct reality from our pandemic year — being disconnected from technology offers severe disadvantages.

No computer, no cellular phone, no laptops, tablets or other devices, no internet access, and no WiFi, means almost no information reception.

In March 2020, an opinion here underscored “issues in Trenton are significantly different than those being faced in economically-secured suburban district homes.”

Education and learning suffered irreparable damage in economically challenged households. The abyss widened during one year of hybrid or home schooling.

In the case of COVID-19, being disconnected meant inability to receive early vital information regarding safety procedures, health initiatives, where to find masks and food, and now, an inability to register for vaccinations. The latter situation rectified when a phone number engaged residents to the New Jersey Vaccine Scheduling System (NJVSS) (call 855-568-0545 for phone support from 8 am to 8 pm.)

In May 2020, Joyce Campbell, director of Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK), identified a growing digital divide.

…..”the pandemic has exposed and will, no doubt, continue to exacerbate the huge gaps in access to basic technology that exists in America because of income disparities,” a Campbell op ed warned.

Campbell noted “gaps between those who have ready access to the computer and the internet and those who do not – is not simply about age. It is also very much about income.”

“Most of TASK’s patrons do not have sufficient income to take care of their basic needs, so it should not be a surprise that many of them do not have a smartphone, personal computer or internet access.”

Without those available options, and not only for TASK clients, many city residents list unsafe in a life and death health crisis high seas drama.

A National Fund for Workforce Solutions article estimated that almost half of low-income adults do not have home broadband services or access to a traditional computer.

City leaders and many organizations fail to grasp the digital divide that exists in Trenton. Many of their decisions disregard or lack recognition of the disconnection faced by people struggling to make ends meet.

Many organizations could have reached the masses, not via technology but with a bullhorn or public address system. Information posted on brown paper shopping bags seemed like a way to dispense information.

Waited for organizations to drive through Trenton while offering instructions to mask up, maintain safe distance, wash hands regularly. In complex times, simplicity reigns as the better option.

White smoke billows from the Vatican when a new pope has been selected. No computer connection necessary for that grand announcement.

The Campbell op ed offered.

“At TASK, we have heard from those we serve that they lack access to real-time information about the pandemic, meaning they may not recognize the symptoms of the virus, especially as new ones are added by the CDC. Not having access to a simple cell phone could be a matter of life and death for them. TASK is working to purchase inexpensive cell phones for our patrons who are most at risk,” Campbell added.

Recently, a city organization posted an email about a Zoom meeting that sought input from residents about charting a course of action for future goals. The group wanted to hear from the public.

Mind you, people out of the internet and Zoom loop were disengaged from conversations about the future of their own communities, their own lives.

A recent snow storm highlighted difficulties connected with being disconnected. Trenton officials exercised strict enforcement of parking rules. Many cars were towed, including that of an 82-year-old woman living on West State St. She’s not connected to the internet nor a city-wide message telephone system.

Sounds unfair. Plus, her limited fixed income will reduce with towing fees? Blow horn or top if you believe this amounts to highway robbery.

Campbell noted “TASK has seen the digital inequities up front and center for years, but the potential impact has never been quite so dangerous. The lack of technology and digital access has now become a public health issue.”

And, the future? Depends on what we have learned about this startling pandemic.

A computer in every household with inexpensive access should remedy many communication issues.

Until then, distribution of information remains crucial for survival.

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