Winter-Spring 2004

Addressing Gaps in Internet Content and Access: New Research, Guidelines, and Legislation

New Research and Guidelines: The Children's Partnership's Online Content Program

  • Although 47 million Americans speak a language other than English at home, only 13% of state and federal e-government sites offer non-English access (US Census 2000; and West, Darrell M., The Taubman Center for Public Policy at Brown University, "State and Federal E-Government in the United States," 2003).
  • Most information on the Web is written at a 10th-grade reading level or higher, even though almost 50% of the population in the U.S. read at or below an 8th-grade level (Zarcadoolas, Christina, et al, "Unweaving the Web: An Exploratory Study of Low-Literate Adults' Navigation Skills on the World Wide Web," Journal of Health Communication, 2002).
  • 41 million U.S. adults are confused by much of the online health content available (Manhattan Research, "Credibility, Accuracy, and Readability: Consumer Expectations Regarding Online Health Information Resources," 2003).

Bridging this content gap, the focus of The Children's Partnership's October 2003 report, The Search for High-Quality Online Content for Low-Income and Underserved Communities: Evaluating and Producing What's Needed, requires the creation of more relevant, high-quality content as well as tools to guide the development and evaluation of such content. Accordingly, the report includes findings and recommendations to help researchers, community technology and other nonprofit leaders, content producers, policy-makers, philanthropists, and other investors take action to close this persistent gap. The report also includes practical information, like examples of pioneering organizations that are already working to develop high-quality content at a local level, and extensive lists of programs, guidelines, and research related to content evaluation.

Our research included the examination of 100 sets of content evaluation guidelines from education, online privacy, usability, consumer rights, accessibility, health, limited-literacy, and cultural content areas. We found an emerging consensus around baseline requirements for quality content, but discovered that the existing guidelines often neglect to address the needs of low-income and other underserved individuals. Specifically, the issues of literacy, language, and culture were each addressed by less than 10% of the guidelines we reviewed (see survey results chart).

Based on these findings, The Children's Partnership developed "Guidelines for Content Creation and Evaluation," designed to be a simple and easy-to-use tool that includes clear and specific questions and a simple scoring system. The guidelines can be used by those creating content as well as by those evaluating the quality of existing content. The guidelines include the following evaluation criteria:

  • Basic criteria for all Web sites—clearly identified sponsorship and topics of particular interest to underserved communities, including criteria for low-barrier Web sites (which address such areas as literacy level and language(s) of text, accessibility to individuals with disabilities, cultural focus of content, cost of access and use, and geographic specificity of content); and
  • Requirements for high-quality Web sites—privacy, high quality of information, good presentation, interactivity, and technical quality.

Below, David Rosen, a leading expert in adult education, technology, and literacy, explains how the guidelines can be used to help the staff of community-based organizations and adult literacy tutors and teachers evaluate Web sites for (or with) their clients or students.

Using the Guidelines On-the-Ground
by David Rosen

A few years ago an adult learner asked me, "If the Web is like a huge library, where is the adult new reader section?" That is a good question. Finally we have a useful tool for adult literacy practitioners to use as they build Web-based adult new reader resources, which can be used by their students.

The Children's Partnership's "Guidelines for Content Creation and Evaluation" can be used in many ways by teachers, tutors, and adult learners with teachers or tutors. Here are four possible activities:

1. To increase "media literacy skills," a tutor or teacher and student(s) could use the guidelines to evaluate two or three Web sites.

2. In a workshop a group of teachers (from the same organization or different organizations) could learn to use the guidelines together by evaluating two or three Web sites and compiling the evaluations to develop their own "adult new reader Web portal."

3. Teachers or tutors who are interested in developing their own Web sites for students or other community members could use the guidelines to make sure their content is user-friendly for low-literate adults.

4. Teachers – or others – could use these guidelines with local government officials to show them what criteria their Web sites would need to meet to be considered "low-barrier" Web sites.

New Legislation: The Children's Partnership's Technology Policy Program by James Lau

The Children's Partnership, working as a member of the California Community Technology Policy Group (CCTPG), saw some important gains in the area of Digital Divide-focused public policy. Despite historic deficits at the state level, several exciting new laws were passed by the California Legislature and signed by then Governor Gray Davis.

We are including brief descriptions of the laws, which we believe can serve as good policy models for other states. Please see Techpolicybank and CCTGP for more information about this legislation and about how the laws were passed.

Digital Divide Grant Program

The Digital Divide Grant Program (AB 855) creates a sustainable and growing source of funding for technology programs in underserved communities. This legislation centralizes the process through which wireless telecommunications companies lease state-owned property to site cell towers. AB 855 specifies that 15% of lease revenues from state-owned property used for cell tower sites will go into a newly created Digital Divide Fund. AB 855 further specifies that the fund will award grants to nonprofit community technology programs to provide a range of Digital Divide projects, including technology training, e-government access, online content development, and educational enhancements. This fund has been projected by the state to collect between $3 and $6 million annually.

Connecting to Internet 2

SB 720 provides increased discounts to connect eligible entities to a high-speed network, or Internet 2. In California, all the higher educational institutions and most of the K-12 institutions, such as schools, school districts, and county offices of education, are connected to a private Internet network solely for educational purposes. This private network offers a dedicated and reliable high-speed connection for institutions to access and use educational curriculum. Because of the severe budget constraints facing schools, many schools, especially those serving low-income communities, are unable to connect to and access the educational curriculum on this network. SB 720 offers a one-time discount of up to 90% of the last mile connection and installation costs to eligible entities, such as schools and nonprofit community technology programs, that are not currently connected to this high-speed network. Because this policy includes community technology programs as eligible recipients of the discount, it holds the potential to increase the number of students, especially at-risk youth, who can benefit from this rich educational curriculum during the out-of-school time.

Electronic Waste Recycling Program

Although CCTPG did not advocate for this program because it falls outside of CCTPG's agenda, this program still represents a promising model for other states to adopt. SB 20 creates a program to promote the efficient and cost-effective collection and processing of electronic waste (commonly referred to as e-waste). As consumers continually purchase new electronic devices, such as computer monitors or televisions, they discard old ones, increasing the number of devices in landfills or on the streets. Because these devices contain cathode ray tubes, which are composed of between two and five pounds of lead, they pose a public health and environmental hazard. To prevent drinking waters from being contaminated or children from being poisoned by lead, SB 20 creates a program to collect and recycle 100% of the covered electronic waste discarded or offered for recycling in the state; to eliminate electronic waste stockpiles and legacy devices by December 31, 2007; and to end the illegal disposal of covered electronic devices. In order to fund this program, SB 20 imposes a variable fee of between six and ten dollars, depending on the size of the screen, on newly purchased electronic devices with a screen.

Laurie Lipper and Wendy Lazarus are co-Presidents of The Children's Partnership, a national child advocacy organization that undertakes research, demonstration programs, and advocacy campaigns to help ensure that low-income and other underserved communities benefit from the "digital revolution."

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