Keeping Tabs on the Digital Divide

The LinkAge

Featured Partner: CFILC

CFILC

Organization Name: California Foundation for Independent Living Centers (CFILC)

Mission: The mission of the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers is increasing access and equal opportunity for people with disabilities by building the capacity of Independent Living Centers.

How did your organization get started?

In 1976, we were loosely started to meet the needs of executive directors of newly established Independent Living Centers across the state. These community-based organizations run by, for, and about people with disabilities were created across the country as a part of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which was an early victory for the Disability Rights Movement. In 1982, we incorporated as CFILC and formalized our organization as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Since then we have been a membership-based advocacy organization supporting ILCs and, more generally, all Californians with disabilities.

What prompted your organization to become involved with the problem of digital access?

CFILC believes that digital access is a critical issue for our community. People with disabilities are “still on the sidelines of the digital revolution.”

H. Stephen Kaye, unpublished tabulations from the Current Population Survey H. Stephen Kaye, unpublished tabulations from the Current Population Survey

With 60 percent of working-age persons with disabilities unemployed or underemployed, affordable universal access to the Internet is crucial. Those without high-speed home access must deal with an obstacle course in order to reach public-use computers, which includes transportation barriers, lack of accessible software options, and inaccessible locations.

What effect does Internet access (or lack thereof) have on your beneficiaries’ lives?

CFILC believes that digital access is a civil right! The existing disability digital divide leads to an inability for disabled persons to fully participate in all aspects of society.

People across many types of disabilities face a range of barriers to home Internet access. It’s not just the high cost of broadband—which are especially difficult to afford on fixed incomes—but it is also the lack of affordable high-speed and high-capacity data plans, the kinds that allow for the downloading of textbooks or the use of video relay services.

Ultimately, broadband access is essential to participating in the community, from registering to vote, to applying for a job, to reordering medication prescriptions, to connecting with a child’s teacher. People with disabilities do not have equal access to broadband and that needs to change.

What are the biggest challenges you face when trying to get people online?

  • Geographic Coverage: Geographic coverage of low-cost Internet plans in urban, suburban, and rural communities has been historically inconsistent. We have worked with many individuals who lived in communities that did not have coverage, had coverage but not at their specific address, or had coverage that was reported to be available when in actuality it was not.
  • Data & Speed: Low-cost internet plans have not been offering enough data or speed to meet the needs of the disability community. While not all of us need unlimited data or lightning-fast speed, many disabled persons require both.For instance, individuals in the deaf community primarily rely on video relay services and texting to communicate, both of which require fast speeds and high-capacity data plans to be effective. Individuals with print disabilities need the Internet to download audio textbooks for classes, which definitely requires speed.
  • Limited Eligibility: Low-cost Internet plans that are offered only to families with children using the National School Lunch Program effectively avoid providing service to almost the entire disability community.
  • Upfront Hardware Costs: Individuals with disabilities can live on fixed incomes of as little as $860 per month. For them, even a monthly $10 plan is an adjustment. A larger challenge, though, is the upfront costs for modems or hotspots that prevent low-income people from being able to signup immediately or at all. We have worked with many members of the disability community to create a short-term three-month savings plan to help pay for the hardware so that they can get connected.

Can you briefly describe your strategy for informing your constituents about the available offers and facilitating enrollment?

CFILC has developed a statewide strategy to reach out to people with disabilities who do not currently have access to high-speed Internet services. We believe this can be best achieved through trusted organizations that have been providing key services to local communities for many years.

We use an integrated approach that leverages a 75-25 match to the funding we receive through the California Emerging Technology Fund. This means that all CFILC staff contribute in some way to getting people with disabilities connected. Digital Access Project materials are distributed at every outreach event for all CFILC programs. We have a statewide 800 call line that is staffed to answer questions and provide assistance with getting connected and informing people about local organizations that provide training and support services.

We have built an online presence with a dedicated website to market the program to the

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community. It includes a back-end data collection and tracking system that allows our staff to track callers, contacts, follow-ups, and adoptions. We started a Facebook page to help engage community members through success stories, advocacy opportunities, and training options. We also market the Digital Access Project on four additional websites. We have developed disability-relevant marketing materials for outreach, trainings, and events.

We are identifying organizations that provide computer training, and determining what type accessibility is available at each site. We want to make sure that if someone who uses a wheelchair goes to a training site, they can actually park, get in, move about inside, use the bathroom, and access the computers. We want to make sure that someone who goes to a computer training center that needs screen reading software or hardware accommodations understands what is available at their local training site.

We also offer monthly incentives to individuals who have filled out a survey stating they are interested in getting low-cost internet services. Each month we give away three devices or hardware options; individuals can choose from a desktop computer, a laptop computer, a tablet, or a modem or hotspot.

Finally, we have partnered with many disability community-based organizations throughout the state to reach out to people with disabilities at a local level. We contract with nonprofits such that for every Internet adoption that are able to complete, they receive $40.

What’s your advice for other organizations interested in getting their beneficiaries Internet access?

It’s about what makes sense to your community. Think about all the reasons why people might want to have access and the reasons why they need access. Internet access is scary to many people, but if you take the time to share the benefits of it and train those who need to learn how to use it, it will all pay off.


Kim Hogan is the program coordinator for the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers. She has been involved with the disability community since junior high school, when she volunteered in the special education department one summer. Kim comes to CFILC from the California Medicaid Infrastructure Grant (MIG) facilitated by San Diego State University Research Foundation. The MIG grant ended in December 2013 and through her experience with the CFILC staff, Kim decided it was a great place to become involved with. So, when the opportunity arose, she jumped on it.