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Overcoming Digital Inequity and Empowering Individuals Through Technology

As a member of the Human Services Alliance for Digital Equity spearheaded by our friends at Vinfen, Riverside Community Care was recently awarded a Digital Equity Partnership grant through the generosity of the Commonwealth’s Executive Office of Economic Development and the Massachusetts Broadband Institute. This two-year, $409,315 grant enables Riverside to deploy two regionally-based Technology Navigators to help people with mental health challenges and developmental disabilities obtain digital devices, develop online skills, enhance their digital literacy, and enroll in low-cost broadband programs.

Opening Tech

Technology Navigators Provide Valuable Education and Guidance To Their Communities

Riverside’s two Technology Navigators are skilled individuals dedicated to closing the digital inequity gap by providing one-on-one guidance to those in need. They teach everything from the basics of using computers, to how to schedule a telehealth appointment, set up an email account, or find soothing music online. Many people Riverside serves have technology goals in their treatment plants, and our Tech Navigators can partner with them to achieve those goals.

“Technology empowers its users to become more self-sufficient and independent, which many people with mental health challenges associate with recovery,” said Matt Shannon, Riverside’s new Community Living Services Tech Navigator. “It also opens so many doors, and the people I’ve trained are usually eager to walk through them all.”

Matt and Gerry

Digital devices can help transform lives in the following ways:

  1. Access to medical and behavioral healthcare can be improved through telehealth (people who can’t use telehealth may experience longer waits and less access)
  2. New employment opportunities become available
  3. Technology improves independence and executive function through calendar apps that keep appointments, send reminders, and encourage routines
  4. Communication is enhanced through text-to-speech and speech-to-text apps
  5. Mental health recovery is supported through the use of specific symptom management and relaxation apps (Our Tech Navigators guide people on how to use, a collection of safe and effective applications that support mental health assembled by the Division of Digital Psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center)


The Impact of Increased Digital Literacy

Riverside has already distributed laptops, cell phones, and tablets purchased with Department of Mental Health ARPA funds to over 25 people in roughly 30 days, and more technology will be purchased and distributed using Digital Equity Partnership grant funds. Our Technology Navigators have also introduced the Affordable Connectivity Program to people served, which provides a monthly subsidy for internet service.

Tech navigator Matt Shannon is seeing a lot of excitement around the new initiative. He reports that individuals are often overjoyed to be able to easily connect with family members, friends, and healthcare providers, which can enhance their mental, physical, and emotional well-being. Favorite uses of the new technology also include exercise applications, Gmail, programs to help with sleep, and digital calendars to improve organization.

While there can be barriers to increasing the technical abilities of people with mental health challenges and developmental disabilities – such as digital anxiety or a lack of technology access beforehand – our Tech Navigators work one-on-one, providing guidance and support to increase an individual’s comfort level. While these new devices can initially seem overwhelming, our favorite success stories include the many people who overcame their technological apprehension, were eager to learn more, and fully realized the benefits of digital access.

“The laptop has made Zooming easier,” said one of our newest tech enthusiasts, Clubhouse Member Jay J. “And I can research job opportunities on the internet.”

Fellow Alliance member Vinfen’s support was crucial in obtaining the Digital Equity Partnership grant. Through this grant, Alliance organizations will provide services in 230 cities and towns in Massachusetts. The Human Services Alliance for Digital Equity aims to increase digital inclusion among eligible end beneficiaries of low-income people with physical, behavioral, or cognitive disabilities and people who are homeless. Riverside Community Care recognizes that increasing digital literacy is crucial to improving the lives of people served, and we look forward to the continued rollout of the program.

For more information about the Affordable Connectivity Program, a federal benefit program that provides qualifying households with a monthly discount for broadband service and device rentals, click here.


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