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Digital literacy: Facing the fear of technology

The Richmond Centre for Disability is a digital hub building confidence and an online community for its members.
By Erica Howes
Communications Specialist

The Richmond Centre for Disability is a digital hub building confidence and an online community for its members.

Amy has been coming to the Richmond Centre for Disability, just outside of Vancouver, for a few years. She waves as people pass by, knows them by name, and is clearly an active member. The centre aims to empower through technology, and Amy says it provides her access to the internet, which she wouldn’t otherwise have.

But Amy says there’s another an even bigger barrier for people with disabilities to get online: fear.

“I got a virus on my sister’s computer I was using and it cost more than $2,000 to back it up. It’s really scary and overwhelming when you don’t know how to use a computer or know where to start.”

This year, Amy started participating in the centre’s weekly Super Cyber digital literacy workshops, funded through CIRA’s Community Investment Program.

Privacy and cybersecurity are popular workshop topics. The sessions focus on practical tips like how to make complex passwords, anti-virus software, Google search techniques and using software like PowerPoint, Word and Excel. 

Jason is a volunteer teacher at the centre with an engineering background, and he is hard of hearing. At first, he worried people would be unable to understand him when he spoke, so he worked with the centre to create YouTube videos of his workshops and using automation and a screen-reader, has the content read out to the class.

Jason now coaches students through their own fears – students like Amy who are worried about breaking something. This is just one way the centre aims to “create a safe environment to do anything with the computer.”

Building confidence and community

Ian Yeung is the technical and training coordinator at the Richmond Centre, and said along with fear, other barriers to getting online for their members include access to a computer, home internet fees and the lack of a support network or community to help with technical issues.

“People with disabilities can often feel isolated. Contributing and sharing information through learning opportunities at the centre helps build community and a sense of purpose,” Ian explained. 

He said he’s seen this in the success of the Super Cyber workshops. Participants are returning week after week.  “It’s sparking that interest in them, and we see they’re leaving more confident about exploring the internet.”

The Richmond Centre has become a digital hub, where people can go to research and get help on basic computer skills in an environment that’s more tailored to their learning than, say, a public library.

For participants like Amy, it has made a world of difference.

“I started from zero and it’s been baby steps but I feel more educated,” she said. “Now I can actually be on the internet, which makes me feel part of the community and opens a whole new world.”

We’re proud to have our CIRA name on the door supporting digital literacy workshops. 

The gaps in digital education

When it comes to accessibility, we know that internet access doesn’t necessarily lead to adoption.

In the past six years, CIRA has funded many digital literacy projects aimed at equipping people of all generations, backgrounds and abilities with the skills they need to get online and be part of the internet community.

To fully participate in Canada’s digital society, all Canadians must have the skills to get online, use the internet and navigate it safely and confidently.  In CIRA’s report, The gap between us: Perspectives on building a better online Canada, funding digital literacy education was a top recommendation.

Learn more about CIRA’s Community Investment Program projects here:

About the author
Erica Howes

Erica works in corporate communications at CIRA. Her background is in writing and community relations in the non-profit sector. She is a graduate of Carleton University’s journalism program.