When the blind and visually impaired students at Overbrook Educational Center in Philadelphia found out they might be getting new devices that would take them online, they started jumping up and down, said Tom Woodman, the school’s braille teacher.
“They’re chomping at the bit,” Woodman said. “They know all about the internet. They hear about it all the time, but they really are unable to access it themselves.”
Overbrook is one of 12 educational institutions and community groups to receive funding through the second year of the city’s Digital Literacy Alliance , a seed fund for innovative programs to close the digital divide in Philadelphia. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney’s office announced nearly $175,000 in new funding grants on Thursday.
The seed fund totaled $675,000 in February and came from initial investments from Comcast and Verizon. This year’s grant program includes innovation grants, fundable up to $25,000, focused on supporting new programs, and sustainability grants, fundable up to $10,000, that support old programs.
Andrew Buss, the deputy chief innovation officer for the Office of Innovation and Technology who runs the fund, told StateScoop he was impressed by the diversity of effort across the city to get people connected with digital technology and the internet.
“Digital literacy is certainly not a one-size-fits-all kind of topic,” Buss said. “I was struck by how different the organizations and the work was. It shows the range of how digital literacy applies to our lives in 2018, whether it’s personal health management or the more obvious, like looking for work and housing.”
The groups awarded grant funding include Moder Patshala, a community organization serving the city’s Bangladeshi residents; Philadelphia FIGHT, a community group using technology to help residents manage their health; and the Supportive Older Women’s Network, which provides digital literacy workshops for grandparents who are raising grandchildren.
Overbrook Educational Center, a school that serves one-third of the blind and visually impaired children in Philadelphia, received $13,500 for a sustainability grant to continue its use of BrailleNote Touch devices. Meredith Foote, the school’s principal said the new devices will allow her students more opportunities to access an education.
Woodman, who has been with the school for 18 years, said the students already have a version of the devices, but they’re 14 years old and can’t go online. Today, students have to use the low-tech solution of sitting next to someone at a computer who is online while that person describes what’s happening on the screen.
“It does help level the playing field in terms of accessibility,” Woodman said of the grant funding his school has received. “Most of our students do not have technology at home. Their parents may have a computer, but they can’t access it because they can’t see the screen.”
Most of all, he said, this funding is a chance for his students do all things online that they hear about from their peers, but so far haven’t been able to do on their own.
“They know all about the grant, and they. can’t. wait. to get their hands on this device,” Woodman said. “It’s really about independence — them being able to go from point A to point Z by themselves.”
The 2018 grantees:
- Asian Americans United
- Furness High School
- Generations On Line
- Key Elementary School
- Lancaster Alliance 21
- Lutheran Settlement House
- Moder Patshala
- Overbrook Educational Center
- Philadelphia FIGHT
- Philadelphia Parks
- SEAMAAC/United Communities
- Supportive Older Women’s Network