LinkVan is a digital equity project led by the Downtown Eastside Literacy Roundtable and the UBC Learning Exchange. LinkVan is a local, literacy-friendly online service directory designed to respond to the service needs and contexts of community members in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. With doctoral students Sherry Breshears and Matthias Sturm I have been researching how people use the LinkVan site, and their experiences of Vancouver’s digital landscape. We have learned that social, income and digital inequality are entangled. People who are homeless or or on-the-edge-of homelessness experience particular literacy, learning and digital access needs. The LinkVan project responds to this by offering digital literacy outreach in local parks, shelters, housing associations, drop in and community settings. Local libraries and learning centres at Vancouver Community College, the Women’s Information and Safe House (WISH) and the Carnegie Learning Centre and the UBC Learning Exchange, all strive to meet the learning needs of homeless citizens. This work is vital, but there is a need for policy and technology design at the municipal and provincial levels (including the design of online information, services, learning spaces and devices) that intentionally responds to the digital access needs of the most vulnerable citizens in this precarious city. These issues were discussed at a recent Community Technology Forum at the UBC Learning Exchange where we presented vignettes from our research that speak to the digital access experiences of homeless and precariously housed citizens of the DTES. These address safety and security of devices and people; the relationship between online information about services and the actual services; how people improvise to access digital technologies and the ideas people have to improve access to digital learning and technologies. You can read these vignettes here:
Vignette One no information is better than inaccurate information
Vignette Two March 21 It’s like you’re off the grid
Vignette Three Nicole because not everyone has a phone
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Suzanne Smythe writes about LinkVan, a digital equity project in the Downtown East Side of Vancouver.