Trying to catch up on three jobs after traveling twice in one month is not an easy task. I am thankful for my all of my bosses’ flexibility with my hours, and their patience in catching up on the work I left behind. I’m doing a pretty good job so far and I’m not feeling *too* overwhelmed…for now.
Yesterday morning, I performed my favorite task of one of my jobs — teaching basic technology skills to people with intellectual disabilities. I wear a lot of different hats for my current role in the CTPD project, but my true love is the weekly instruction. On instruction days, I visit Resources for Independence, an adult habilitation center that assists people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in improving their quality of life. RFI teaches their clients all kinds of basic skills, from shopping at Target to visiting the public library. They have zero money in their budget for technology, so their computer “lab” consists of old, slow hand-me-down computers. Thanks to the grant the CTPD project acquired, they have two new laptop computers to use, and those are the computers we use in instruction.
Each module we use teaches a basic internet skill, such as bookmarking a website in Favorites, or playing a video on YouTube. I started with this project as a student assistant earning research credit, and for the summer I am paid to be Project Manager. The project is a hybrid, with outreach and research components, and each part of the project is valuable, to be sure — the in-person instruction is valuable for the clients, while the dissemination of results is valuable for learning more about teaching technology to people with disabilities and raising awareness of the way the digital divide affects those people. The behind-the-scenes grant-writing and module creation are also very important.
But I’ll be honest — the clients make working on the project truly worthwhile for me. Every time I see them I know I am making a difference just by going to visit. They love to have conversations about their family, sports, and their hobbies. And they really love getting on the computer and learning new things. They LOVE YouTube. One of the clients, who is deaf and non-speaking, loves to watch videos of pop songs performed in American Sign Language. One client loves watching NBA basketball, and another loves John Wayne videos. They are currently learning more about Google and how it can connect them to information all over the internet.
I’m really excited about a series of modules that one of our student assistants, Braegan, is working on that teaches the clients how to set up a Gmail account. It is a higher-level lesson, to be sure, but I love the idea of these people learning how to use the internet to communicate with some of their relatives who live far away. I also plan to email them when I can no longer work on the project.
Working with these clients has really taught me more about the digital divide and why it is so crucial to close the gap. We take for granted that we can hop on a readily-accessible computer and perform hundreds of computer-literate tasks without even thinking about it. There are so many people out there with a disadvantage — socioeconomic, physical or intellectual disabilities, age, etc. While some public libraries have technology classes for digital immigrants like the elderly, it would be very difficult for a library to undertake a program like ours – where lessons must be repeated over and over again, and each client has unique needs.
This is where I think library school students come in. We supposedly care about information literacy, computer/digital literacy, and transliteracy — and we have the opportunity to prove it. At UA SLIS, we have at least two such opportunities – working with the CTPD project, or working with the a project that teaches technology to senior citizens. I know other library schools have people in their communities who could benefit from programs like this.
Not only do library students get experience in instruction and service/outreach, but these clients gain independence and important skills. They also feel cared about when people take the time to help them. My clients thank me on a weekly basis – one has told me many times, “Thank you for coming here and teaching me this. I really want to learn”, and another has said, “I’m really going to miss you when you graduate!”
If you are in library school, and have the opportunity to participate in a project like this — please, please consider it. If there is no project — start one! It only takes a couple of hours out of your week to help out those on the other side of the digital divide. As the.effing.librarian. said in this fabulous post, “The problem with all the people who are using the internet successfully is that they have no time left for those who can’t. The digital world isn’t like giving your spare change to a guy on the corner. Training someone to be an educated digital citizen takes real time.”
Do you participate in a similar project? Are you interested in learning more about what it takes to start a project? Do you have thoughts on the digital divide? I’d love to hear from you!