Without barriers into the digital world

Digital for All – How we can make it easier for citizens with low levels of media literacy to access the digital world so that they can participate more through the new media. ‘“Participation” is a word that has many meanings,’ reads Thomas (all names changed) from an online dictionary for simple language. He continues: ‘You can also say: to take part in something’. Andreas looks up briefly from his tablet and says: ‘Ah right, so that’s what we’re doing here’.

‘“Participation” is a word that has many meanings,’ reads Thomas (all names changed) from an online dictionary for simple language. He continues: ‘You can also say: to take part in something’. Andreas looks up briefly from his tablet and says: ‘Ah right, so that’s what we’re doing here’. He was already absorbed back into the screen. Since June 2019, adults with learning difficulties have been attending the workshop organised by Smart City’s Digital for Everyone project once a month, usually directly from their work at the Darmstädter Werkstätten. In the adjoining room of the city library, they then surf the Internet as they please – with the support of Adelheid Wolf from the Social Planning and Project Coordination unit in the Social department of Science City Darmstadt. She coordinates the Smart City project. The aim of the project is to reduce digital barriers for as many people as possible and enable digital participation. In this first workshop of its kind in Darmstadt, Wolf sees an opportunity to learn from each other: ‘Together with the participants, I can test, evaluate and even adapt materials and approaches – as a basis for the development of further workshop opportunities’, says Wolf.

Image: rfw. Communication

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Everyone follows their passion: a fan of London, Andreas is always on the lookout for pictures from the British capital. Thomas likes to get to the bottom of things. Today he is looking for information on the word ‘participation’ because the group talked about the workshop goal of ‘digital participation’. ‘You learn most quickly when you do things you’re interested in’, says Wolf. Most workshop participants have no more than a mobile phone and hardly any access to digital media. ‘There is rarely a tablet in the family – and if there is one, it stays at home because it’s too valuable’, says Wolf. It’s a different story at the workshop. Here, they can gain access to the digital world and learn about its opportunities and possibilities. As usual, Sebastian wants to watch police videos, but he has momentarily forgotten how to find them. ‘Google it’, says another workshop participant, who is met with a frown. ‘There are many different search engines, but most people like to use this one here’, says Wolf, while pointing to the Google icon. ‘This is pronounced Goo-gl’. Sebastian clicks on it, types ‘Police’ into the search bar and hits Enter. Many rows of search results appear on the screen. Wolf helps: ‘If you’d rather search for pictures or videos, you can click on it at the top of the bar.’ Soon afterwards, the first police video starts playing on the screen.

Digital participation through simple language

Wolf calls the workshop afternoons ‘moments of pleasant deceleration, because impatience has no place here.’ To make it easier for the group to access and surf the internet, there are leaflets scattered around the table with instructions or explanations written in simple language and contain lots of pictures. Examples include: ‘Internet/Wi-Fi – How do I log in?’ or “All search engines have search bars. You can write words in the search bars that you want to know more about’. Again, it took a while for everyone to get online. Turn on the borrowed tablets, unlock the display, click on ‘Connect’ in ‘Settings’, then find the Wi-Fi icon, click on the right hotspot, and finally enter your user name and password correctly – and then hope that everything was done correctly. ‘Anyone who has grown up with digitalisation does everything quickly and intuitively – but it’s not all self-explanatory, it’s only makes sense when you know the processes’, says Wolf. ‘The request about data protection on Google can be challenging, because it’s too much text.’

Feeling confident and assured with the digital world

Step by step, the group tries each time together until everyone is online. ‘In the beginning, some were still afraid of doing something wrong’, says Adelheid Wolf. But after writing a small text in Word, participants start becoming more confident and assured with digital things. ‘They’ve learned that it’s good to make mistakes because you can learn from them.’ She hasn’t heard any excuses at the workshops for weeks and the mood has been improving. ‘Being able to see yourself as a successful person is enormously important for everyone.’

The workshop is monitored by master’s students from the Evangelische Hochschule Darmstadt, a university of applied sciences. As part of their studies in Integrative Curative Education, they focus on creating work instructions in simple language. For them, too, mutual exchange is essential. At the workshops, the participants check the texts drafted by the students and say whether they understand them. The long-term goal is to turn them into printed brochures – guides that help you access and explore the digital world with ease. These brochures would then be useful for people disabilities affecting intellectual abilities, as well as those with a migrant background or low literacy skills.

Event calendar in simple language

Smart City’s Digital for Everyone project is also aiming to lower digital barriers for as many people as possible with another initiative: the preparation of a new version of the city’s event calendar. ‘At the moment, the calendar presents the events primarily in writing, in the way they were submitted to the citizen information office’, says Wolf. ‘It is not in simple language, has hardly any explanatory illustrations, has no read-aloud function, and does not offer any possibility of changing contrasts, font or font size.’ The students from the Evangelische Hochschule Darmstadt have therefore developed recommendations for how to create an accessible event calendar.

The findings from these collaborations will then be incorporated into other Smart City projects. The Digital Education Pathfinder and the Smart City Laboratory should also reach as many people as possible with as few barriers as possible.

Digital for Everyone

Adelheid Wolf
Project coordinator

Digital for Everyone
Office for Social Affairs and Prevention
Frankfurterstraße 71
64293 Darmstadt

Tel.: 06151 – 132160

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