Two York graduate students are leading a new project that aims to improve access to digital resources to better serve 2SLGBTQIA+ seniors in Canada.
Stephanie Jonsson and Hannah Maitland, both PhD candidates in the Gender, Feminist, and Women’s Studies Department at York University, are founders of the Ontario Digital Literacy and Access Network (ODLAN), a queer-centred non-profit that works with 2SLGBTQIA+ organizations and other service providers to advise on digital strategies that improve access to remote services.
Several York graduate and undergraduate students offer their time and expertise to ODLAN, including Angela Stanley, Helen Martin and Keely O’Brien.
ODLAN recently received $25,000 from the New Horizons for Seniors Program, a federal grants and contributions program that provides funding for projects that make a difference in the lives of seniors and their communities.
The funded project, called “Combating Digital Exclusion: Mobilizing Educational Resources to Remove Digital Access Barriers,” allows ODLAN to focus attention on curating resources specifically for older adults and continue to form partnerships with digital literacy organizations to help them become more queer-inclusive.
“Since its formation in 2021, ODLAN has provided a collaborative space for York students to contribute to the 2SLGBTQIA+ community,” said Maitland. “As we shift to a new normal post-pandemic, it is still essential to remove digital literacy and access barriers for anyone who is experiencing these challenges.”
2SLGBTQIA+ older adults face several challenges when accessing remote service provisions, says Maitland, such as financial limitations, a lack of digital literacy and a lack of support to learn new devices. ODLAN, Maitland says, works to prioritize highlighting affordable and accessible resources for communities with the least secure access to devices and internet access, such as Indigenous community members, people with disabilities, and newcomers to Canada.
Through this grant, ODLAN has hosted webinars and created original guides and infographics to educate the public about the importance of queer-inclusive digital literacy and remote services.
Research is currently underway to expand ODLAN’s resource database and the team will host relevant resources and educational materials on a newly formatted version of the ODLAN website. During the 2022 Winter term, students from Professor Melanie Beljko’s graduate course, EECS6330 “Critical Technical Practice: Computer Accessibility and Assistive Technology,” volunteered to program and help host a resource database that would be easily accessible and searchable by the public. Because the site hosts resources that have already been confirmed to be up-to-date and queer-friendly, users will be able to operate the site like a search engine and enter terms to find quality and affordable digital literacy resources more easily than a general Google search. Work will continue through the summer and ODLAN will launch the new resource database website in late August.
“Nobody should be excluded from accessing digital programs and resources. Digital literacy and access needs to be recognized as a basic human right,” says Jonsson.
More information about ODLAN can be found at odlan.ca.