December, 2018
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Honoring our Partners in the Cristina Network

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The people on the affluent side of town had not previously thought much about the digital divide. Due to a school closing in 1999, the Parent Teachers Association at the Menlo-Atherton High School in northern California had some adjustments to make. The digital divide became starkly visible when it became apparent that the students from affluent homes had computers and the second group, coming from low income families on the opposite side of the school district, did not. Computers were used intensively in their schoolwork. How would they bridge this gap?

The school made a decision to guarantee a gift of a free computer to every household that did not own one. But how? The school district’s budget had few funds to spare. The Parent-Teachers association with Sue Kayton, a parent at the school, took charge to develop a solution. 

As an alumnus from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with technology expertise, Sue went into action. The PTA alerted the people in this Silicon Valley community that computers were needed by the high school. They could help by donating the used computer technology they were replacing in their homes or at work for use at the school. She organized student volunteers and guided them to prepare the equipment that would be put back to work for the students who needed them. The school gave her a classroom for this purpose. The refurbished computers were then distributed at no cost to the students who needed them.

After a number of years, the school needed to reallocate the room at the school that had been used to get the donated computers ready for distribution. With that next barrier, the spare bedroom in Sue's home became the workshop. Real estate costs in the region had become so high that alternate space could not be found. Even a nonprofit refurbisher in the community had to move away. The impact of the economics around the digital divide challenges how to support this vital program.

Sue Kayton continues her important work. During the summer, she and the volunteers installed new software and checked the 500+ computers that this reuse program has deployed throughout the school. They prepared and distributed 100 computers, mainly laptops, to students for home use. And, they provide ongoing technical assistance throughout the year to support and repair the 200 computers that belong to students who use them in their homes.

Why this ongoing support? It is to make sure that students from the east side of the school district have consistently working computers so they can do their schoolwork every day, just like the rest of the kids. 
Anyone who has seen a child with cerebral palsy write independently for the first time because he used a computer, knows how important technology can be to a person with disabilities. Because of the power of technology to advance independence and promote inclusive opportunities for these individuals, bridging the digital divide for people with disabilities has been seen as essential. Greg Grill who manages the Infinitec Program at United Cerebral Palsy Seguin in Chicago explains. “Technology is a great equalizer to level the playing field for individuals that need its support for achievement. Regardless of physical, cognitive, or developmental issues, technology makes it possible to address the many challenges people with disabilities face for accomplishing life and employment."

Greg has been involved with the Infinitec program since 1998. The Illinois State Board of Education recognized the importance of a technology reuse program that had been developed to benefit the disabled. It could assure its regional officers that technology reuse could solve the funding challenges that school districts faced. Acquiring the technology tools for the needs of students with disabilities would now be in reach. The Illinois State Board of Education has become this computer refurbishing program’s primary funder.

UCP Seguins ATEN project, the Assistive Technology Exchange Network , has grown considerably over the years. This year alone it distributed 5,393 previously used computers across the state of Illinois to 120 counties. Greg calculates that over the last ten years more than 100,000 people with disabilities have benefited from the program. The dedication of Greg Grill and his staff have made an enormous difference in people's lives. The National Cristina Foundation is honored to have guided them about how to engage in a program that would successfully manage technology reuse.

More recently, in 2016, UCP Sequins ATEN program became a member of AFTRR (Alliance for Refurbishing and Reuse) . This program developed by the National Cristina Foundation is an alliance of refurbishers within the Cristina Network community. Through collaboration and data collected from this community, the Foundation is spreading the importance of collective impact, that is, what happens when organizations work together to strengthen their program outcomes.

The challenges of the digital divide require collaboration: collaboration with nonprofits, with the business community, and with government. Solutions that are developed, large and small, make it possible to bridge the digital divide. They strengthen our whole society.  That is a victory for all of us.
dig·it·al di·vide

  1. the gulf between those who have ready access to computers and the Internet, and those who do not. "a worrying “digital divide” based on race, gender, having a disability, live in a rural area, educational attainment, and income."

In 2017, 18.7 percent of persons with a disability were employed. In contrast, the employment population ratio for those without a disability was 65.7 percent.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Only 56% of U.S. adults with incomes under $30,000 have computers while 97% of U.S. adults with incomes above $100,000 have them.
Pew Research 2017
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