Impact of digital exclusion

People described the impact of not being able to access the Internet in terms of exclusion, isolation, powerlessness and limited opportunity.

“My kids won’t actually come over and stay the night because I don’t have wifi and they’re so connected.” – Women’s refuge

“MyIR, Realme, they can’t access them - [there’s an] expectation that that’s how they get in the information if they’re on the benefit - so unless they go to the library which is free or the Westport hotspot they really struggle with that stuff.” – Community education coordinator, Westport

“It’s the loneliness, stuck at home all the time with two little girls.” – Women’s refuge

“A lot of schooling is done via the Internet. Whether it’s school notice or projects at school. Can’t do homework if no Internet at home.” – Youth worker, Westport

For some groups of participants, losing digital access also meant losing access to other essential activities. For youth with disabilities, a lack of digital access could mean time away from accessible education, which put pressure and stress on the young person and whānau.  Likewise, a lack of data and GPS for navigating undermined the independence of disabled youth, and furthered the isolation some feel. Using apps to navigate was particularly important for vision impaired youth. Finding free WiFi spots was an important theme in many conversations across impairment types.

Participants also emphasised that losing the ability to be digitally connected could have a disproportionately disastrous impact on people in vulnerable or tenuous times, or when moving through a life transition.

“I can’t contact my kids, I can’t apply for a benefit. I basically can’t do anything without it. I feel disempowered.” – Women’s refuge

This was a significant theme in the discussions and interviews, and came from people who were referring to their own personal experience, people who had seen this impact on their friends and family and people who worked with people during times of stress and transition. These diverse participants agreed that the very times when you were most likely to lose digital connection – e.g. when leaving a violent relationship or when leaving school with no job to go to - were also the times when that lack of connection could have the most negative impacts.