Digital equity and community solidarity during and after COVID-19
By Dr. Suzanne Smythe, Faculty of Education
As many have noted, COVID-19 is an efficient illuminator of our society’s strengths and weaknesses; its progress accelerates in spaces of inequality and injustice.
There is a race among public health agencies at all levels to provide timely, accurate information about COVID-19 that is essential to support physical distancing policies and to maintain quarantine and stay-at-home rules. New, ambitious, vital social programs and anti-poverty policies have emerged in an effort to patch a frayed social safety net, save lives and livelihoods during the crisis, and make it possible for people to comply with all-important physical distancing and social isolation.
But persistent digital inequalities threaten these objectives. Timely information, access to benefits and programs and the transition to working or studying remotely, require that Canadians have a high speed Internet connection, a working digital device or phone, digital savviness and fluency in English or French. Yet those who are most at risk of COVID-19 in terms of their health, personal security and livelihoods are also those who are least likely to be tapped into or able to afford the relatively steep cost of these mainstream Internet information channels that our institutions seem to take for granted. Overwhelmingly, these are Black, Indigenous, new immigrant, refugee, and other racialized and low income communities.