Seattle is Committed to Preserving Net Neutrality

Jim Loter is the Director of Digital Engagement for the City of Seattle

On February 20th I was honored to have the opportunity to testify before the Washington State Senate Energy, Environment, and Technology Committee about the importance of net neutrality to the consumers of Seattle. I made the point that net neutrality was essential to achieving the digital equity and inclusion goals of the City of Seattle. Loss of net neutrality protections, I argued, would adversely affect lower income residents and business owners who cannot afford to pay higher rates simply to access certain sites, content, or services.

You can watch the full testimony here.

I was overjoyed when, 2 weeks later, Governor Jay Inslee signed House Bill 2282 to protect net neutrality rules at the state level and ensure that internet providers cannot manipulate internet speeds and access to content. The Washington Open Internet Law law was the first of its kind in the nation. The law will prohibit companies that offer internet services from blocking legal content and applications; it will prohibit them from throttling internet traffic; and it will prohibit them from prioritizing certain traffic in exchange for payment (“paid prioritization”). The law also requires internet providers to disclose to their customers information about network management practices, performance, and terms. The law goes into effect on June 6th.

At the national level. the US Senate is moving to a vote later this month that could block the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality. Today – Wednesday, May 9th – marks the start of a national “Red Alert” campaign on net neutrality. Many popular web sites will be displaying information designed to raise awareness and urge elected officials to vote to overturn the FCC’s decision. You can read more the Red Alert at https://www.battleforthenet.com and find out how to contact your elected officials about this upcoming vote.

Given that this week is also Digital Inclusion Week, it is especially important to remember that the loss of net neutrality is most detrimental to those who are already underserved by technology. Net neutrality is a critical component in ensuring that the most vulnerable populations have access to the information and services they need to fully participate in their community and in civic life. Here in Seattle, our commitment to digital inclusion via our Digital Equity Initiative and our commitment to preserving net neutrality go hand-in-hand. Help us by speaking up and by contacting your elected officials in DC about this important issue.

Seattle’s Civic User Testing Group Engages Residents to Provide Feedback on City Technology Tools

Seattle residents rely on government and nonprofit websites and apps to access key information and resources, like utility accounts, housing assistance, permits, and library services. But they don’t always get the chance to provide feedback on that technology and how useful – and usable – it is for them.

Seattle’s new Civic User Testing Group (CUTGroup) aims to involve residents in the creation of technology that’s designed for public use, giving residents a voice and a chance to gain technology experience, while helping developers of this technology make it more effective. Given the growing prominence of online platforms in daily activities, technology design has become a key opportunity to address principles of inclusivity, diversity and equity.

The CUTGroup is a partnership between the City of Seattle Information Technology Department; the University of Washington iSchool; and the civic technology community group Open Seattle. It’s modeled after similar programs in Miami, Chicago and Detroit, and supports the City’s Digital Equity Initiative, which works to ensure that all residents have the opportunities and skills to participate in digital activities.

To join the CUTGroup, you just need to be a resident of Seattle — no technology experience or device ownership is required. Residents can fill out a brief form on the CUTGroup website and will be notified when a new testing opportunity is available. Test sessions will be up to an hour long and run by user experience researchers in a small-group setting. Each participant will receive a $20 Visa gift card per session.

Funding for the CUTGroup is provided by the City of Seattle Information Technology Department and will provide support for up to four test sessions for four different civic websites and apps this spring.

In order to form a diverse group of resident testers that is inclusive of all of Seattle’s communities, we’re looking for organizations interested in serving as Community Partners to help spread the word. As a partner, you can help ensure that your community is represented in the feedback provided to developers creating technology for public use, and your organization will be featured on the CUTGroup website and in each published report from our test sessions. For more information about becoming a Community Partner, please email seattle.cutgroup@gmail.com.

Learn more about the Civic User Testing Group on our website.

Voices of Tomorrow: Breaking down cultural barriers in child care

Voices of Tomorrow: Breaking down cultural barriers in child care

Story by Joy Okot-Okidi

Voices of tomorrow has been serving East African childcare providers and their families for more than five years. The co-founders Zamzam Mohamed and Iftin Hagimohamed saw how a lack of cultural understanding in early learning was impacting their community. So they set out to better equip East African child care providers, children and families while breaking down cultural barriers.

Their mission reads, “helping today’s children for a better tomorrow.”

CEO Zamzam Mohamed says the hopes the organization will, “further bridge the cultural gap between Westerners and immigrants as far as childcare and raising children goes.”

The organization fully came together in 2012. Since then co-founders have worked to put together programs and conferences along with members of the community.

One such event in December was The Somali Women’s gala. The purpose of the event was to celebrate and empower Somali women in the local community. It also serves to appreciate and acknowledge the many women who work in the childcare field.

They also hold an annual childcare conference is held to support providers. This conference not only holds mandated trainings and improves professional development, but connects members of the community working towards a similar goal.

After receiving a grant from the City’s Technology Matching Fund, Voices of Tomorrow pushed to open a computer lab in the Hope Academic Enrichment Center, close to Voices of Tomorrow’s headquarters in South Seattle. The lab supports local childcare providers in gaining computer skills such as opening emails, responding to licensures and writing documentations.

Voices of tomorrow co-founder saw a common challenge among the 400 plus childcare providers in King County, and 166 in the Seattle area. They launched the computer lab project was started to improve tech literacy.

“People come in at different levels, so we created a ‘tailored needs service,’ where we will pair two people up. One who is very knowledgeable in the subject and someone who wants to learn about the certain subject. We use this system because our community of immigrants, especially where I am from, really thrives well with peer to peer support and activities,” said Mohamed.

Community members also come in to the lab to help providers with the various computer skills. In addition, about 80 children were given access to the computer lab for homework help, and to work with a teacher on computer skills like typing. Children in grades six and up were using the computer lab.

The lab features a total of eighteen HP computers, including a printer, copier, scanner and projector. The projector was used during a nine week literacy training, in three hour sessions taking place every Wednesday and Saturday beginning last December. After a successful launch, the computer lab has moved to the Voices of Tomorrow office, where community members can still drop in and assist each other with various skills.

Mohamed says East Africans have valuable cultural assets that can be applied to childrearing

“For example, our families use a lot of storytelling,” she explains “and parents may think that they have to relearn skills to help their children with what is being taught in school, But they already have the skills. They just have to connect the dots using the methods that they have.”

Voices of Tomorrow started with the idea of breaking that cultural barrier. So Mohamed says that when childcare providers can call Voices of Tomorrow and there is no barrier in understanding, it brings her immense joy.

She says that the most rewarding part of her job is when childcare providers have the “A-ha moment” where they try out a method in their own childcare program and it successfully helps a child do better.

In 2016 the City of Seattle awarded 10 community organizations a total of $320,000 in Technology Matching Funds (TMF). This funding will assist more than 2,500 residents in historically underserved or underrepresented communities who lack the necessary technology access and essential digital skills to thrive in the 21st century.

Lazarus Day Center responds to homelessness crisis with devotion to service


Story by Hillary Sanders.

The Lazarus computer lab gives visitors access to software like Microsoft Word and provides an internet connection for clients to engage in housing and job searching, communicating on social media, or just watching a YouTube video to unwind. The computer lab is currently accommodating between 50 and 60 people per week.

As the homelessness crisis peaked in 2016, the Lazarus Day Center in Pioneer Square found itself serving more homeless and marginally-housed people than ever this last year.

“The Laz” as it’s lovingly called, provides a range of services for homeless and marginally housed people aged 50 and over. Those include laundry, showers, meals, counselling, housing case management, activities and classes, and as of this year, a 6-station computer lab.

As plans were being made to clear The Jungle, volunteers from the Laz went to the Seattle City Council and fought hard to get the funds that allowed the center to open earlier and provide more meals and add an additional housing case manager.

The Laz secured housing for 49 people in 2016 and expect that number to go up in 2017. With the help of the Technology Matching Fund, The Lazarus has also been establishing a technology center for its clients.

Prior to the construction of their 6-station computer lab, the Laz did not have computers or internet access for its clients. They now have staff building out classes specifically to help people develop computer skills.

According to Jennifer Newman, the Program Director at St. Martin de Porres Shelter and Lazarus Day Center, these classes cover everything from resume building, learning Word, looking for housing, job searching, and connecting with family on social media.

“We want to expose people to a variety of activities and classes to enrich their lives but also, to build relationships founded on trust and respect. This enables us to engage clients in meaningful housing case management,” Newman says.

Between the additional meals, the new computer lab, classes, and other events, the Lazarus is now strained when it comes to physical space — but Newman says that they’re devoted to continuing to help more and more people regardless.

In 2016 the City of Seattle awarded 10 community organizations a total of $320,000 in Technology Matching Funds (TMF). This funding will assist more than 2,500 residents in historically underserved or underrepresented communities who lack the necessary technology access and essential digital skills to thrive in the 21st century.

Seattle Housing Authority looks for ways tech can help us connect

Story by Hillary Sanders

It was an especially cold December afternoon when I visited the STAR of Seattle in the Central District. I was greeted by Misha, a STAR volunteer, who was sitting at the front desk in a room full of purring computers.  STAR stands for Special Technology Access Resource and its mission is to empower people of widely varying abilities and disabilities to build community using computers, the internet and assistive technology.

I was floored when I toured the assistive technology available in the Center — things I didn’t even know existed like a braille printer and enlarged print keyboards for people with low vision.

In an era where we often talk about how technology alienates us (think of your family looking at their phones instead of each other at the dinner table), Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) residents are finding ways to connect with each other through technology.

In 2015, the Technology Matching Fund through the City of Seattle, allocated $24,269 to the SHA to replace a total of 18 computers; nine at the STAR of Seattle and nine at the Westwood Heights Technology Center.

In collaboration with Full Life Care, a non-profit situated adjacent to the STAR that supports people with chronic illnesses, and physical or developmental disabilities, the TMF also provided for the creation of a database capable of tracking visitors at six SHA computer labs.

The STAR of Seattle is the largest of the SHA computer labs and is the only one open to the public.

Mike Pollack, the Information Systems Manager at Full Life Care, says the STAR and Westwood Heights Centers combined serve about 200 people per year, while Jefferson Terrace, Denny Terrace, and Barton Place serve between 40 and 80 residents each. Data collected from the labs is helping to assess resident needs and inform future grant applications.

Full Life Care, for example, recently received grant money to build out a mobile computer lab that will expand computer access to more SHA buildings. The mobile lab will also provide community workshops on everything from how to protect your privacy when using social media to digital photography and video chatting.

According to volunteer Dorene Cornwell, the STAR Center is a place where people can come and gain access to the resources they need, at a pace that works for them.

“I’m a big fan of peer support and of emphasizing the community value of shared space,” Cornwell says.

That’s why SHA residents organized the Resident Leadership Development Team Seattle Conference, held on December 16th. One of the sessions, “Accessing Technology in Low-income Communities,” covered a broad range of topics including how to coordinate trainings in SHA buildings, the process of applying for technology grants, and programs that provide low-cost internet and discount laptops.

As more essential activities like banking and job applications migrate online, Cornwell explains, the challenges for people in her community multiply. Sure, online resources can be really convenient, “but if somebody is not comfortable with the technology, it’s just another dang intrusion, another way to be frustrated when our lives are kind of difficult anyway,” Cornwell says.

This begs an important question: how de-sensitized are we becoming to the privileges that our personal technological devices grant us? I wrote this article entirely on my smartphone, but for some, even accessing an online article presents major obstacles.

When it comes to all of the devices we use and have access to on a daily basis, having the skills to make the most of that access, Cornwell emphasizes, “is never to be taken for granted.”

 

The City of Seattle is now accepting applications for the 2017 Technology Matching Fund (TMF). In 2016 the city awarded 10 community organizations a total of $320,000 in Technology Matching Funds. This funding assists more than 2,500 residents in historically underserved or underrepresented communities who lack the necessary technology access and essential digital skills to thrive in the 21st century.