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Need Help Providing Internet Education to the Disadvantaged

The skinny here is that I’d like to work on correcting the uneven access to Internet jobs (great jobs, btw) by providing education to the disadvantaged. By disadvantaged I mean — here in New York City — mainly blacks and Hispanics, but generally those with lower income. I’m not sure how organizations who provide such services identify customers in this segment. I’ve already got some plans in the works for an educational service, and a small but important component of it is figuring out how to make the education available more widely.

Lately this has become a hotter topic in the blogosphere — with Kottke sparking a thread and Zeldman, Nick, Mike, and Anil supporting this point of view.

Someone asked, Where are the barriers then? Here’s a few:

  1. There’s white privilege, which sounded dodgy to me until I gave it serious thought. Now I think it’s the status quo in America.
  2. Economists will tell you that most of the wealth in rich countries is not in the bank but in the health and education of its citizens. The disadvantaged have less education and less health care, and so tend to be poor in multiple ways.
  3. For immigrants, just making enough money to support a family and learning English is hard enough, they ain’t going to the library to read A List Apart.
  4. Internet companies might already be diverse in other ways, and feel justified in ignoring this problem. At Razorfish years ago we hired a lot of women and gays, and I was proud of that. But that was easy; it’s much harder in this industry to hire blacks or Hispanics, or anyone over 50.
  5. The disadvantaged don’t hang around Internet cafes. Their social circles reinforce who they are rather than encouraging them pursue a career different than their peers.
  6. In the case of women, we simply haven’t evolved the workplace fast enough to employ women in necessarily flexible ways. We now have mothers that want to work, and yet we don’t take child care seriously either at work or otherwise; in NYC finding suitable child care is on par with finding an apartment, a daunting task. If men gave birth we’d have at-work child care everywhere.

As tall, white guy with no significant disabilities born in America to college-educated parents who could afford to send five kids to college, I’d be fooling myself to say I’ve got a good career just because I spent some extra time in my 20’s reading some helpful websites. Hurrumph.

  1. Every one you mention has access to a mobile phone however and with today’s tech, what about ESL lessons texted on your mobile phone or MobilEd?

  2. Gotta get institutional support, yo. I’d look into talking an alliance of UPA/IAI/AIGA/ACM people into setting up a taskforce, preferably made up of people who come from underprivileged and underrepresented groups, benchmarking and starting a small pilot program.

  3. Regarding the mobile idea, that’s fascinating, but I think the problem has more to do with society and culture than about access to information. Access seems easy, or at least easier to say, go to the library and read up versus even know enough to be able to comprehend a web tutorial. It might be like we’re teaching calculus to people who don’t know arithmetic.

    Regarding institutional help, I think that may work. But I tend to think professional organizations are not the right place. Having started one, I’d say they’re generally short on time and resources themselves, are composed of the elite and therefore have trouble relating to the needs of the disadvantaged, and don’t have any incentive to fix this problem. I think institutions — probably non-profits — that already do this in another discipline may shed some light on reaching the target audience.

  4. Having come from the world of nonprofits, I often think they have the same issues you’ve described as well. =) But some institutional support will be necessary when taking donations and giving out grants. The most important thing is to start with a group of concerned people though and figure out what it is we can do. It is an investment more of time than money, at least, initially.

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