Expanding Digital Access: Making New Contacts, Looking Ahead

Did you know that in the digital age, one in five U.S. households still lack adequate broadband service? And in the age of accessibility, many digital resources still lack accommodations for users with disabilities.

Walter Prescher with other Connect20 attendees, in night shot with U.S. Capitol in the background.
BridgingApps Digital Navigator, Walter Prescher (third from right), at Connect20 in Washington, DC.

Much of the solution lies in expanded outreach by digital professionals. Through a generous grant from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, BridgingApps now provides a range of digital services to rural southeast Texas. And, we recently took our outreach to Washington, DC: Walter Prescher, one of our Digital Navigators, was invited to participate in the Connect20 Summit on November 14–15. (The summit, named for the 20 percent of households yet to be fully connected to broadband, was organized to “facilitate important conversations between on-the-ground educators, digital inclusion practitioners, and lawmakers at all levels.”)

Walter was a panelist in the “Connecting the Hardest-to-Reach Americans” session, sharing insights from his experience as a Digital Navigator in rural Texas.

Audience view from "Connecting the Hardest-to-Reach Americans" panel. Walter Prescher is one of four speakers seated on stage.

Walter (facing camera, second from right) on “Connecting the Hardest-to-Reach Americans” panel.

“Connect20 Recap,” by Walter Prescher

The primary aims of the Connect20 Summit were to:

  • Connect policymakers in Washington with a variety of individuals working in the digital-access field.
  • Educate participants on the importance of full digital equity, and the people who benefit from it.
  • Increase awareness of the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) before it runs out of funding in 2024.

As a post 9/11 Veteran (and rural Texas resident), I know from firsthand experience how essential it is for Veterans and their families to have internet and other digital services. Besides participating in “Connecting the Hardest-to-Reach Americans,” I was interviewed by the Pew Research Foundation about BridgingApps’ work in helping people with disabilities enhance their lives through technology.

I was also a panelist at a lunch-and-learn for congressional staffers, where we discussed the need for digital equity, the positive impact of Digital Navigators, and the challenges we face on a daily basis. After lunch, our group had the chance to visit with a variety of congressional staff members representing the House Veterans Affairs Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The whole summit was an incredible experience! I was sought out by many people who were eager to hear my story and the stories of our clients, and to learn how the decisions made by policymakers impact real people. Other contacts I made included:

  • A Satellite Internet Provider working on ways to offer lower-cost service in rural areas.
  • A computer refurbisher who might be a source of devices for our BridgingApps assistive technology labs.
  • A variety of public-policy workers from various companies in the telecom industry.

Plus, this was my first time in DC, and seeing the historic sites was a bonus!

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