Cyclone Gabrielle: Calls for more to be done to breach digital divide


A Christchurch social housing trust says the impact of Cyclone Gabrielle shows how important it is for everyone to have digital skills.

The Otautahi Community Housing Trust (OCHT) has been offering digital tutoring since a survey showed that many of their tenants lacked the skills or equipment to make use of digital technology.

OCHT digital coach adviser Joanne Cantrick said there was a real need for digital training so their tenants could fully take part in society.

"It's been forced upon people to have to use digital devices.

"The cyclone is a perfect example - it's go to Facebook or online for more information but a lot of people don't have an internet connection or a device they can look up that information on.

"They are interested to know but they don't have access to it."

OCHT chief executive Cate Kearney said a survey in 2019 showed that of their 2400 tenants, 1500 had no access to the internet.

Follow-up surveys have shown that a third of tenants did not know how to email, a third did not know how to download apps, a quarter did not know how to use a laptop or tablet, and more than 65 percent did not have any device to start learning digital skills.

Kearney said the trust had employed a digital coach since 2021, but this summer it had had the added advantage of borrowing a bus, called DORA, from the Digital Inclusion Alliance Aotearoa.

The bus was set up to be able to be used as a mobile classroom, she said.

"(The DIAA) have a range of tools for people over 65, and one of the tools is a bus which we can take around our complexes.

"It is really easy if we can take the bus to a complex which might not have a lounge or a meeting area and we can provide online training right on the bus."

Two people to take part in the recent training opportunities were Laurie Hardman and Beverley Baker, who live in the OCHT complex in Bishopdale.

Laurie Hardman said he owned two smartphones, but was only using them for phone calls before the classes.

He now had his bank's app on his phone, and planned to make regular use of it. One of the first things he planned to do with his new skills was track down a bank branch and head in so he could make full use of the app.

Otautahi Community Housing Trust Digital Coach Advisor Joanne Cantrick goes over some tips on using a laptop with Laurie Hardman.
Otautahi Community Housing Trust Digital Coach Advisor Joanne Cantrick goes over some tips on using a laptop with Laurie Hardman. Photo credit: RNZ

He was also delighted to have been shown how to use the YouTube app on his phone.

"I've got videos of Elvis Presley, and can hear him sing and dance. I'm really glad I got that, didn't expect that but got it.

"I just hit a couple of buttons and bang, I got into Elvis. I was doing that this morning, and last night."

Hardman said the process was difficult to start with, and he did not think he would ever have got the hang of it without help.

Baker also came along seeking information on how to make more use of her smartphone.

She said she was particularly pleased to figure out how to use TVNZ on demand, and the Gold Card App.

Beverley said she was nervous about online banking, as she had previously lost money in a scam, with someone using her card to steal money from her account.

But the lessons had made her more confident to look at using internet banking, she said.

OCHT has also partnered with Manchester Unity who help them to provide subsidised devices for people over 65.