Eamonn O’Laocha is bridging the digital divide in New Westminster by providing computers and smartphones to marginalized people so they can access social services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Douglas College business instructor is collecting digital devices people no longer need to help connect families and individuals to online resources like financial aid and government services. Due to the global pandemic, he says there’s a greater need to get people online.
“We found that many people can’t apply for the government programs that have been made available during COVID-19 because they don’t have access to the virtual world,” said O’Laocha. “This pushed us to move quickly so they can apply for these resources.”
O’Loacha is working with the Purpose Societyand the City of New Westminster to distribute the devices.
Nadine Nakagawa, New Westminster city councillor, said staying connected is now more important now than ever and acknowledged that not all community members have equal access to technology.
“As more and more services move online, people need to be able to access online forms and information, and to stay connected to loved ones and our support networks,” said Nakagawa, in a news release. “This is especially true for members of our community who are the most marginalized. Connectedness is a basic human need, and this project works to address that.”
People who want to donate desktop computers, laptops and smartphones can email O’Laocha at firstname.lastname@example.org details.
The collected devices are wiped clean by Douglas College’s IT department and then installed with free software by student volunteers and O’Laocha.
This is one of several projects undertaken by O’Loacha, who works with community groups on research-based solutions to business or social problems. This current initiative is a part of a bigger project that aims to bridge the digital divide in New Westminster. O’Laocha is also working with the City of New Westminster to make free Wi-Fi more accessible by installing free internet hotspots around the city.
People who are marginalized are excluded from digital society, and it can be a challenge for them to get services and move out of poverty,” he said. “By providing them with technology, we can bring everyone together.”
Douglas College is the largest degree-granting college in B.C., combining the academic foundations of a university and the employer-ready skills of a college to provide the most relevant and inspiring undergraduate experience in British Columbia.