Director, Nonprofit Helpdesk
Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Island
My name is Kayza Kleinman, and I am the director of the Nonprofit Helpdesk, which provides Technology and Fiscal Management services to nonprofit organizations throughout the city, including those in the Bronx. Our almost two decades in the field has given us a thorough insight into the needs of the organizations who serve the community.
In order to understand the need, it=s important to understand the community. In 2002, approximately 10 percent of all households in the Bronx consisted of seniors living alone. Over 20% of the population has some disability, this is a really significant number.
With over 64% of all households not having access to a car, and public transportation not being ideal, that translates to a very large number of people who are going to have trouble getting around - whether to a government office, a library, or to a job.
That undoubtedly is a real factor in some troubling statistics. Close to 18% of all female headed households with children under five lived under the poverty line. While 70% of the adult population without disabilities was employed, only 31.9% of those with disabilities was employed. Almost 69% of seniors live under the poverty line, and that does not even take into account the higher incidence of high medical related expenses incurred in that group.
(All numbers have been taken from the US Census Bureau=s American Community Survey for 2002)
The community, and the organizations that serve it, need every tool they can get in trying to deal with the problems presented by these realities. Stable, reliable, fast, affordable broadband connections are one such tool.
On an individual level, there are two major areas where broadband can be very valuable. Firstly, it makes tele-commuting, either part of the time, or even full time, a realistic possibility. It=s not hard to understand what this can mean to people with limited mobility, or for parents with few affordable child-care options. Keep in mind that if a parent needs to pay almost as much per hour for child care as she earns, working is not practical. But, if she only needs to do that for a small number of the hours she works, that can drastically change the situation. Similarly, if someone has other mobility issues, the trek to work would not be feasibly every day, but might be manageable once a week, making even a part time tele-commuting arrangement a viable option for many people who could not manage working full time at an employer=s location.
The second area that broadband could improve is access to information and services. While internet access cannot entirely replace the need for visits to government or CBO offices to gain access to services, being able to find out what services are available, what you need to do to apply, sometimes even to get the forms you need to fill out, and to find out who can give you the help you need to get those services can make all the difference in the world. This is true even for people with no major challenges. Think about what it means to someone with young children, and no childcare or someone who can=t get down the stairs to the local subway. But, it=s not just government services. IT=s medical information, safety information etc. And, it=s education, as well. A person who may not be able to travel to school for some reason could still get the education they need to move beyond the limited circumstances they find themselves in, and get a chance to move up.
On an organizational level, the issue of access to information and services is also crucial. Organizations need to be able to access information about a range of items - government grants, services available to their constituencies, information about regulations and legal issues affecting their constituents and themselves.
But, there is far more to be gained. The internet offers powerful tools for organizations in pursuing their goals - tool for advocacy, collaboration with others, outreach to their constituencies, and public education. But, mist are not realistically usable without broadband connections.
And then there is the issue of government and funder mandates. Many, many funders require the use, to some extent or other, of the internet as part of their reporting requirements. In most cases, these requirements mean that it is not possible to record services, or sometimes even fill out applications, unless a fast, stable internet connection is constantly available. I have seen first hand, how disruptive an internet outage can be to an organization that must process this kind of information on line. I have also seen, first hand, how cavalier some companies can be about such problems, with little concern for the hardships posed to their customers.
What it all comes down to is that broadband access is no longer a luxury. It has become an extremely important tool in the fight against poverty and hardship. Organizations and individuals need access to connections that are affordable, fast and reliable. While the City cannot wave a magic wand and make that happen, it is truly important that it use all the tools available to encourage the provision of such service, as well as a responsible attitude on the part of internet service providers.
Wednesday, April 4, 2007