Bridging the digital divide: Eastern Michigan and the community

by Pamela Young, Published August 28, 2012

Eastern Michigan University's Business Side of Youth's (The B. Side) program, Digital Inclusion, recently partnered with HDL (Wireless Ypsi) and the Ypsilanti Housing Commission to bring free wireless internet access to the  two low-income housing developments in Ypsilanti.

The Southside Ypsilanti Wireless Project, held Aug. 14 at the Hollow Creek and Paradise Manor housing developments,  was supported by the James A. and Faith Knight Foundation and the Workforce Investment Act.

Digital Inclusion is both a youth development program and  a social enterprise. Youth participants in the program are trained by EMU students in computer refurbishing and software installation, said Jack Bidlak, director of the B. Side.

Students from EMU's Business Side of

Youth's Digital Inclusion program.

Digital Inclusion's mission is to sell low cost refurbished computers to the community, specifically targeting low-income and disabled residents who cannot access or afford technology from computers to wireless routers.  Digital access is often the road to economic and educational opportunity, and without it, many residents are unable to move forward and improve the quality of their lives, said Bidlak.

"Through DI we  provide very good computers, which help to lessen the digital divide, but if you can't afford internet access or get connected, a computer doesn't help you much," Bidlak said. "That's why we installed these networks in low income areas."

Bidlak, eight students  from the Digital Inclusion program, along with Steve Pierce, Founder of HDL and Wireless Ypsi, spent the day learning, installing and testing the new wireless expansion. Pierce provided the training to the youth by a method he refers to as "seeing, doing, teaching". Each person had the opportunity to see an installation done, then perform the installation, and subsequently teach the next group on how to install routers.

Many of the young people involved in Digital Inclusion come from low-income communities, communities which they are servicing through their work in Digital Inclusion.

Ten wireless repeaters were installed in the two communities, which took the entire day to complete.

"This was the most that I have installed in one day," said Pierce, after wrapping up a 10-hour day. "The youth were great to work with and many of them could look at this as a possible career choice. Installers can make up to $30 an hour if they are good."

One participant, Diamond, said, "This is really cool. It's great to know that by the time we're done that we have impacted this entire community."

Before school starts, Digital Inclusion and its youth staff will return to the Hollow Creek and Paradise areas, as well as the Parkridge Community to update the computer labs.

For more information is available at Digital Inclusion or call Jack Bidlak at 734.487.6570.



Pamela Young

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