Author: Giulia Bergamasco, European Association of Service Providers for Persons with Disabilities (EASPD)

Digitalisation influences all areas of our society, including our everyday life.

Have you Men at work with a Pc and a mobile phone ever found yourself thinking, “Wow, I love living in the 21st century” – maybe whilst you were comfortably sitting on your sofa doing your grocery shopping online? Or perhaps when you were enjoying a movie on Netflix, with your dishwasher working in the background to get the job done for you?

The list of everyday-life examples demonstrating how technology has made our lives easier could be endless and wide-ranging. Technological change has always expanded people’s possibilities by creating new opportunities and accelerating progress.

The benefits of digitalisation became even more evident during the Covid-19 pandemic. Let’s think about how – thanks to technology – many people were able to work and learn safely from their homes. During lockdown, we were able to virtually socialise and meet our friends, relatives or partners online thanks to our phones, tablets or computers. We dealt with bureaucratic procedures from home, practised sports, discovered new hobbies, all whilst monitoring our own health.

Digitalisation is constantly creating new opportunities – but can everyone benefit from it?

At this point, one may think that technology is truly making everyone’s life easier. But this would be an inaccurate view of the reality that surrounds us. Living in a digitalised society does not automatically mean that everyone has access to digital opportunities.

While it becomes increasingly clear that digital inclusion is a right everyone should have access to, too many people continue to be excluded from the digital transformation. The concept of “digital divide” or “digital gap” is used to refer to the gap between those that can benefit from the digital opportunities offered by modern society and those who cannot.

This gap is widening at an alarming rate, with significant negative impacts appearing from both a social and economic point of view.

How to bridge the digital gap?

The reasons why the digital gap exists and continues to represent a threat to equality are many and varied.

Some people do not have access to technology because of economic reasons, whilst others – such as persons with disabilities – may face digital barriers hindering their participation in the digital society. Others may just have never had the opportunity to develop digital skills through education or work. In certain cases, one may just lack the motivation to acquire those skills, believing that they are not essential for their life. For example, a recent study commissioned by the European Commission [1] shows that the requirement of digital skills appears to be highly polarised across the EU economy. This means that digital skills are mostly required for high-skilled or medium-skilled workers. Hence, a large share of workers in low-skilled occupations are not required to develop digital skills, being therefore at risk of digital exclusion.

It is therefore of the utmost importance to develop and implement awareness-raising campaigns focusing on the benefits of digital literacy for society as a whole, regardless of their educational level, economic sector, age etc.

Support for the education and training sector should be provided in order to develop and adapt its offer in addressing the new needs arising from digitalisation. Learning programmes should vary in mode of delivery (remote or face to face), level and interactivity, according to the different needs of end-users. To support access to training, information about existing training initiatives should be shared across the population, using governmental channels or through the involvement of professional organisations.[2]

Digital literacy strategies should also address the needs of vulnerable populations since they are more likely to be excluded from new work opportunities offered by digitalisation.[3] Governments, international and European organisations and NGOs should continue to promote digital skills development by identifying best practices and by implementing targeted actions. This is also the aim of the ENTELIS+ project, which wants to enhance the digital skills and competencies of digitally excluded groups, particularly persons with disabilities of all ages.

Today more than ever, digital skills must be considered essential skills. Everyone should be able to benefit from the new opportunities emerging from the digital society to ensure equal participation and contribution to modern society.

 

[1] M. Curtarelli, V. Donlevy, M. Eggert Hansen e V. Gualtieri, «ICT for work: Digital skills in the workplace» European Commission, Directorate-General of Communications Networks, Content & Technology, 2017.

[2] Ibid.

[3] D. Lussier-Desrochers, «Bridging the digital divide for people with intellectual disability» Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, vol. 11, n. 1, 2017.v