Businesses and organisations showed resilience in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, rapidly shifting their operations online to continue providing services to Australians. But this quick shift shined a light on barriers to online participation – and how it can potentially lead to greater social exclusion that impacts us all.
“Equal access to services is something we all deserve,” Gary Starr, Australia Post Executive General Manager of Business, Government and International, said at our latest Australia Post Connect webinar – Connecting Australians through inclusive access to services.
“And so the question is how can we ensure all Australians have equitable and convenient access to services?”
Andy Penn, CEO and Managing Director of Telstra, joined Gary to discuss the 2020 Australian Digital Inclusion Index. They then welcomed Stella Avramopoulos, CEO of Good Shepherd Australia and New Zealand, and Donna Stolezenberg, CEO of the National Homeless Collective, to talk about what they see on the frontlines of community services work.
It’s about more than access
Andy said the elderly, indigenous Australians and those with a disability are some of the groups most likely to be impacted by the digital divide – and that increasing their level of digital inclusion is more than being able to connect to the internet.
“Two other points are equally important – affordability and digital literacy,” he said. “Someone might be able to get access, but can they afford it? And do they know how to use it?”
He said online COVID-19 assistance services showed the far-reaching effects of digital exclusion.
“Much of the support for programs such as JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments, and the vaccination rollout, has been provided digitally. If people don't have access, can't afford it or don't know how to use it, then it's really not of much use to them, and so that's where we can play a really important role.”
To tackle these issues, the federal government’s Mobile Black Spot Program works with telecommunications companies to provide more coverage for people who can’t afford it.1 As the NBN continues its rollout, it can also improve connectivity in regional and rural areas.
Organisations like Telstra are addressing the challenge too. Concession plans are available, and payphone use is now free (at least 230,000 calls a year are made from payphones to help lines). To improve digital literacy, Telstra’s Tech Savvy Seniors program has helped more than 185,000 older Australians build the skills and confidence to use computers, tablets and smartphones. And its Deadly Digital Communities initiative, in partnership with State Library of Queensland, Indigenous Knowledge Centres and local councils, teaches essential skills to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Benefits include access to government, education and health services, keeping in contact with friends and family and online shopping and banking.