Barriers to access: capacity

Another theme to emerge from these discussions, which fell outside of the framework we derived from our working definition of digital inclusion, was the barrier to access created by a lack of capacity.

 frustrated girl holding her head

Time

People told us that they didn’t have time to keep up with digital platforms and all the new forms of digital communication. For example, we heard from some parents of young children that they found it hard to use the Internet as much as they felt people expected them to, because of the time pressures of parenting, working and generally staying on top of their responsibilities.

One sole parent told us that she struggled to find time to check the updates her son’s school posted on Facebook and that she had on several occasions missed out on information about events at his school that she should have known about.

“I don’t know where people are finding the time, I’m a solo working mum. I’ve got so much to do… there’s a whole expectation of being connected and that responsibility falls to you as a parent … I don’t have time in my day.” – Mother, Westport

Energy

Capacity was also an issue raised by people with disabilities, whose capacity to access and use digital technology was in some cases limited by the additional drain on their energy caused by chronic health issues, pain, learning to use new adaptive technology and other issues.

“Essentially as soon as I’m on a computer, the clock is ticking for how long it’ll be till it makes me sick. Cos I don’t have the hang of using only a screen reader yet and I’m really struggling with using it on the computer I have access to. … I pretty much do online what I need to do for coordinating my life and for my sanity and my obsessions when I’m in autistic mode. I’d love to know more, read more about what’s happening in the world…but I just don’t have the spare-ability.” – Young person with disability, Wellington

Resilience and problem-solving

Even if someone is motivated to access the Internet, most people will at some time face difficulties in the process of getting online. Examples could be having to persevere to get hold of a telecommunication company, or facing a delay in getting connected, negotiating their way onto a contract despite a history of insolvency, or encountering technical problems once they are online.

“I’ve been waiting since December [five months] for my WiFi to be connected.” – Women’s refuge group, Auckland

A person’s capacity to recover quickly from those difficulties is often described as resilience. Where difficulties and barriers are significant, resilience also needs to be higher than average. Resilience can therefore have an impact on digital access.

Some of the young people with disabilities told us that their ability to persist in the face of barriers to digital access was reduced by the effect of their disability on their health and energy levels.

“The energy I have means that if something is put out of my reach by money, I will just do without.” – Disabled Youth

In our discussions, we asked people how they would rate their ability to solve problems, or to persevere when they encountered challenges online. What we heard was that while some people are fairly confident in their ability to overcome challenges getting online, others lack confidence in their ability to persist.

“I just quit straight away and turn off my computer.” – Naenae Youth Group

“When I tried getting a new passport online, it was too complicated so we had to go into some place and get it sorted.” – Youth, Naenae

Researchers in New Zealand have suggested that resilience is better thought of as a process, rather than an event or trait. “Resilience also evolves over time, with adversity often leading to responses that lead to further adverse outcomes.” (2)

This echoes what we heard from participants, which was that the more adversity they faced in accessing the Internet, the more likely they were to respond by stopping, which in turn led to the further adverse outcomes which come from digital exclusion.