Changing the context

Creating spaces

One suggestion for changing the context was to create new spaces, community hubs and clubhouses.

These suggestions were often not only about the physical spaces themselves, or the technology that would be made available in the space, but also about giving people an opportunity to feel welcomed, included and valued, positive self-regard, hope and possibility. The spaces people proposed would give people the space, time and support to experiment digitally, learn about their own interests and creativity, and meet people who might inspire them.

In Naenae we heard from young people who were already attending the Naenae Clubhouse, and they thought that similar spaces should be made available to other young people at risk of digital exclusion around New Zealand. Staff at the Naenae Clubhouse told us that they had seen children come into their space with low skills, confidence and resilience when it came not only to digital access, but also to communication and learning in general.

Then as they grow and have more experiences, then they become problem solvers and they start finding their way through that. So yeah, that access is really important to the resilience.” – Youth worker, Naenae

In Kawerau, young people were familiar with the Clubhouse model because there was a clubhouse in Whakatane, and they thought it would be good to have something similar in Kawerau.

Another theme was creating spaces where parents and their children could have shared experiences that inspire a sense of self-esteem and possibility, and help build parents motivation not only around digital connection but about creativity and curiosity more generally.

“Inviting them to have shared experiences in a place that the families acknowledge as a safe and knowledgeable place. We did a Matariki thing last week and just having parents come in and see the work that young people are doing.” – Naenae Clubhouse, youth worker

Young people with disabilities also suggested a specific space, possibly online, where people could ask questions, receive advice and give tips about specific situations. Youth with complex needs often had never met someone in the same position as them and craved a forum or disability specific access point to ask and learn about online accessibility issues.

A more abstract way of creating space, suggested by young people with disabilities, but applicable to other groups of young people more likely to experience digital exclusion, was the need for better representation of of people with lived experience of digital exclusion online, including as web developers and frontline digital users.

“Opportunities are rife to present a normalised and proud disabled population online, combatting the tragedy/triumph/trauma disability trope.” – Disabled young person, Wellington

Accessible and humane tech and regulation of the platforms

People told us digital inclusion could be increased through more accessible and humane design.

Participants in a discussion group of disabled youth said online accessibility (including education for designers and developers and enforceable standards) would benefit everyone, and particularly vision impaired, D/deaf, Hard of Hearing, physically disabled and autistic young people.

Their recommendations for accessible design included:

  • closed captions on all video content

  • more content in New Zealand Sign Language and Māori

  • more variety in gaming options for people who cannot participate because of their impairment affecting reaction speed or physical ability/clicking

  • option for audio descriptions for video where the content is visual

  • websites and apps where information is presented in a logical order

  • option to take away video/animated content and have a ‘plain’ or ‘accessible’ version

  • apps and websites fully compatible with speech and magnification software.

For screen reader users this means including labels for headings and other elements, descriptive alternative text on all images, reproducing any text within images, and no inaccessible video content or Flash.

For magnification software users this means accessible captions and subtitles, high contrast text and the ability to wrap text to screen no matter the size, ability to turn off pop-ups and banners, ability to make the cursor bigger and good contrast on ‘X’ buttons.

Participants also recommended further research and development of technology that would help disabled youth gain equitable Internet access. Examples could include more accurate speech recognition software, and validation, awareness and development of other forms of non-verbal communication for people with ASD or other neurodiversity.

Ideas for humane design included altering the design of, for example, social media platforms to make them less addictive, to prevent or stop online harassment, and to encourage timeout. Participants thought that the platforms would be unlikely to alter their design voluntarily and suggested that government regulation might be required to achieve a shift to more humane tech.

“I’d love to see programs or devices with timeouts, particularly from getting messages in the middle of the night. It’s encouraging an entire generation of humans to live by bad sleep habits, and that alone cannot be good.” – Youth worker, Westport

“These are responsibilities [to stop cyberbulling] that should be falling to the government and the organisations that have created these [platforms]” – Youth worker, Westport

One of the humane design proposals that was raised several times was for a version of the Internet that was safe for kids. This would make it easier for parents who didn’t have the confidence and skills to set up those filters themselves to provide digital access for their children without fear of them being exposed to undue risk.

“If I could buy, like a section or part of my broadband that was for my kid to log into and I knew that it was 100% safe and I’d seen what the parameters were and I was happy with them then I think that would be an amazing product that they could market really.” – Parent and youth worker, Naenae

While participants recognised the challenges of changing the Internet, they also thought that Internet providers and the big platform companies had an opportunity to be seen to be doing good in this area by proactively moving towards more humane, safe and healthy design of software, platforms and access packages.

“It’s tricky, eh, because … the Internet’s whole purpose is to free information, it wants to be free, it wants to be open and accessible, so it’s very hard to then turn around and say, but only this certain area is for certain people. I think the best bet … is putting it to the providers, there is a benefit for them to be seen as being the good guys, and providing a [safe] option. Because it will be taken up, you know?” – Youth worker, Naenae

The view of these participants was that providing ways to access the Internet that were safe for kids would remove a significant barrier to access for those families.

It’d take a lot of barriers away from families because with a trusted brand they would know that their kids were safe online.” – Youth worker, Naenae

Cheaper Internet and devices

The first suggestion made by most groups was to reduce the price of an Internet connection, and of Internet enabled devices.

“They need to drop the price.” – Mother, Auckland

Make it cheaper, so people can afford it.” – Youth, Naenae

“Bring the prices down. I can’t afford to get the Internet and for me applying for a benefit and everything.” – Women’s refuge group, Auckland

People had a variety of ideas about how to reduce the cost of having Internet access, including low costs devices and plans. Many people made the point that if these low cost plans were also low data plans, they wouldn’t solve the problem, since so many of the ways people, and especially children and young people, use the Internet today involves the use of a lot of data.  

Some people specifically suggested that connection and set up fees should be dropped, or that penalty fees should not apply if people need to move to a lower cost plan because their circumstances had changed.

Support in times of transition

Some participants in this research told us that the way telecommunications companies structured their contracts, combined with the requirement from WINZ and other government agencies that clients be online and regularly checking their messages, created a kind of maze or trap that kept women like herself in a state of constant disadvantage.

One of the ways they thought this could be changed would be if free wifi contracts could be provided to support people experiencing times of transition and upheaval, whether this involved transitioning out of a women’s refuge, or leaving home to begin living on the Independent Youth Benefit. Participants with experience of family violence specifically proposed that every woman leaving a women’s refuge be provided with a wifi contract and a data enabled device on which to use it.

In order to prevent yet another hurdle for already stressed women to jump through, they recommended that the administration of a scheme like this could be handled by the refuges or by support groups like The Aunties.

“Well you wouldn’t want individuals to apply … cos that would be a pain in the arse and shaming and all the rest of it. You don’t wanna go through retriggering, all that bullshit. So it’s better to have someone like me go in and … say, ‘Look there’s X number of women and these are their circumstances they’ve all lived in violence or are currently living in violence so I want free Wifi free or whatever for 50 women a year.” – Social worker working with women with experience of family violence, Auckland

The women also pointed out that any program like this would need to be structured in a way that it could be used by people without a stable home. In other words, it would need to be mobile.

This was also a point made by the youth worker in Westport who proposed a specially designed free Internet access for young people on the Youth Benefit, which would give them access to essential services.

“It would need to be mobile. Because they do change address, they might be going from somewhere that has Internet to one without. It’s all very well having a phone, but ... I know our youth - none of them pay for data, being on wifi is the choice over everything. So yeah, I guess that’s walking wifi, that moves with them definitely. That would be a bonus.” - Youth worker, Westport)

Free wifi

Most groups also recommended changing the digital context to make inclusion the default by providing free wifi Internet to all homes in New Zealand.

“Free access for New Zealand citizens!” – Women’s refuge group, Auckland

“Give free wifi to their homes instead of going to McDonalds or the payphone, what’s the difference for them? Just transfer it. What’s so hard about just transferring a system? All these free areas to go to, just take those areas and put it at home so we’re not sitting at a payphone, the bus stop, the car.” – Women’s refuge group, Auckland

Often, however, as soon as someone made this suggestion other people would make comments about why it was unrealistic. But no-one disagreed that it would play a significant role in making digital inclusion the default.

When people thought free wifi for all was unrealistic because of the resources required, they often suggested that an alternative solution would be to target the homes - and people without homes - who needed help most.

Some people thought a good way to target would be based on who was already getting income support.

“I think anybody on a benefit should have a subsidised wifi because then you can have an education.” – Women’s refuge group, Auckland

Other people suggested targeting sole parent families with school age children or younger.

“Mothers and children, babies. … Unless they can do it for unit housing, so much Internet a day.” – Women’s refuge group, Auckland

Some participants expressed concern that targeted programs would lead to stigmatisation, which lead them to come back around to the idea of a universal provision of free Internet. This discussion amongst women in the women’s refuge group in Auckland gives a good flavour for this concern.

“The taxpayer would get mad [if only people on a benefit got it].”

“Imagine the Herald! The Herald would have a field day.'“

“Letters to the Herald. Yeah. Haha!”

“It would be ideal if everyone could have it.”

“Like they did with the winter payment so everyone could have warmer homes.”

– Women with experience of family violence, Auckland

Not everyone wants to be online

While the prevailing theme of these suggestions was to create an environment in which digital inclusion was the norm, some people also wanted to be clear that it was important to ensure people who chose not to use digital services - especially older New Zealanders - continued to have the option to do things offline.

“Giving people the option of doing it both ways. There is too much pressure on people having to do it digitally.” – Community education coordinator, Westport