|New Web Site Provides Resources for Empowering
50 Million Americans Face Online
Citing original research indicating a persistent digital divide
in content for low-income communities, The Children's Partnership,
along with the Markle Foundation, launched the Community Contentbank
(www.contentbank.org), a new online resource that provides low-income
communities with information and tools to serve their unique needs.
A new report, Online Content for Low-Income and Underserved Communities:
An Issue Brief, showed that 50 million Americans are currently underserved
by available Web-based resources.
"We've seen first-hand that low-income residents are eager
to take advantage of the educational and employment opportunities
on the Internet, and that community technology groups offer an ideal
way to connect them with the information they need. Contentbank.org
is both a service and a lever to ensure that the Internet benefits
low-income and underserved users," said Laurie Lipper, co-director
of The Children's Partnership.
The new Web site promotes the creation of original content tailored
to the needs of poor, limited-literacy and non-English-speaking
populations, who can be ignored by conventional information sources.
Contentbank.org is geared toward the growing number of community-based
organizations that connect poor neighborhoods to technology. Contentbank.org
encourages the creation of neighborhood-specific online connections
to health, education, housing and employment resources.
"All Americans should have the chance to benefit from our
networked economy and society," said Zoë Baird, president
of the Markle Foundation. "We invested in Contentbank.org to
begin building critical resources for low-income communities and
to encourage corporations and governments to develop content that
serves the needs of those communities."
Over the past four years, the number of Americans with family incomes
of less than $25,000 annually, who used the Internet, more than
doubled from 7.8 million to 16.7 million. As larger numbers of low-income,
limited-literacy and non-English-speaking populations begin using
the Internet, the need for relevant content is becoming more urgent.
"Internet content is skewed towards those with disposable
incomes and higher educational levels. Contentbank.org aims to tilt
the scales toward the millions of low-income users who are eager
to take advantage of new opportunities online," said Wendy
Lazarus, co-director of The Children's Partnership.
As a national advocacy organization for children and families in
low-income communities, The Children's Partnership spent two years
developing and testing Contentbank.org, a solution to the problems
identified in their groundbreaking study released in 2000, Online
Content for Low-Income and Underserved Americans. The study found
that online content not just access to computers is the "new
frontier of the digital divide."
The Web site arises from a growing grassroots movement to bring
Internet access and training to low-income, rural and underserved
communities to help them benefit directly from the digital economy.
While computer access has grown, needed content is still lagging
severely behind, according to the new report. The research provides
an update of the state of online content for underserved communities.
The brief also found that forty-four million Americans do not have
the reading and writing skills necessary to take advantage of many
opportunities. Although appropriate content for limited-literacy
Americans could help raise literacy levels as well as employment
skills, there continues to be a severe shortage of Internet information
for early readers.
Today, more Americans speak a language other than English at home
than did two years ago an estimated 45 million compared to
32 million in 2000. Spanish speakers can find more online content
than two years ago, but the supply is still quite limited and nearly
nonexistent for many other languages.
There has also been a notable increase in the number of places
in local communities that can serve as "distribution and production"
centers for relevant Internet information and applications. Compared
to two years ago, the number of community technology centers has
doubled, while the number of public libraries offering Internet
access grew from 11,000 to over 15,000.
While Internet access from a location outside of the home more
than doubled between 1998 and 2001, increasing from 17% to 34.8%,
places like schools, libraries and community technology programs
offer users the opportunity to obtain relevant Internet information
and applications. Residents who want to create content they value
can get coaching at these centers to do so.
Contentbank.org provides evaluated and concisely organized information
from the Web that is ready for use by community technology practitioners.
Users will also find twenty recommended Web sites for health, education,
jobs and housing, as well as select limited-literacy, Spanish, and
cultural content sites, highlighting features especially useful
to underserved users. In addition, a checklist serves as a quick
guide to the most frequent content barriers facing low-income families
to determine if a site is likely to meet users' needs.
Information and tools to develop local content include "Creating
a Content Site: A Content Primer" and five step-by-step best
practice models to build on, software tools like Read-A-Loud and
Spanish translation that can make content more accessible, message
boards to encourage contributions from a dispersed group of individuals
working in local communities nationwide to bridge the content divide,
ways to advocate for community technology, research about the status
of online content for underserved communities, and up-to-date information
about local content programs.
Article printed courtesy of The Children's Partnership.