Laurie Sanchez, Director of Operations at the Community Technology Network, leans in to demonstrate a function on Lloyd Washington’s new tablet. Well, it’s not his tablet yet – but it will be once he learns how to use it. Until then, he’s studying.
Three years ago, Obscura Digital donated 20 Xoom tablets to CTN. When Sanchez joinedCTN, 16 tablets were still in storage. While Sanchez brought in a tech nerd to prepare the tablets for new users, CTN looked for a partner to identify potential students. “Our goal is to bridge the digital divide,” Sanchez explained. “We focus on people who don’t have access to technology or don’t know how to use it. We wanted an organization with roots in the community to handle the recruiting.”
Greg Moore, Executive Director of Saint Francis Family Living Room in San Francisco’s Tenderloin, fit that role. Moore explained that he had several criteria for participants: “I have to have experience with them, they have to have demonstrated reliability and interest in learning, and they had to be people who weren’t going to sell the tablet.” “He’s made good choices,” Sanchez said, “Everyone he’s selected has made it through the program.”
CTN initially planned to offer classes on using the tablet. But given the student’s range comfort with technology, CTN turned to a more individualized teaching model. The trainer meets with only two or three students for two hours of instruction. “It usually takes three sessions to learn how to use the tablets,” Sanchez said, “though people who are more tech savvy can do it in two or even one visit.”
Rosalind (Roz) Strother Bresson lives in Miranda House, the complex that houses the Living Room; she’s lived there for over eight years. A journalist, attorney with the U.S. Attorney’s office, a poet and an author, Bresson conveys a sense of joy as she quietly works on her tablet. “This tablet will make it a lot easier to do the things I want to do,” Bresson, who uses a motorized wheelchair, explained.
Lloyd Washington also lives in Miranda House. A former electrical engineer, he’s tech savvy, but has problems with his vision and hearing. He’s been making do with voice activation on his cell phone, but, he “wanted a tablet with its larger screen.”
Other program graduates and new tablet owners include two long-time volunteers with the Living Room: 83 year-old Frannie, a recent convert to the tech world, and Bob who has started helping others learn the technology. New users are not limited to volunteers with the Living Room: Alice, a Chinese émigré with a PhD in Pharmacology, uses her table to become more “self-sufficient tech-wise,” and Nieves, a volunteer with the Faithful Fools Ministry, uses his tablet to study for the GED and communicate with his family in Florida.
Once a student demonstrates the ability to use the equipment, the tablet is theirs. They can take it wherever there’s internet access. But before turning it over, the CTN instructor programs in their email address. “For seniors it’s partly a memory issue. We don’t want them locked out because they’ve forgotten their email address,” Sanchez explained.
In summing up his experience with the program, Moore said, “There definitely has been and still is a Wait List. It’s unfortunate we’re about to use up the number of tablets we had for the program. This program has a 5 Star rating from me.”