Bridging the Digital Divide: ODLAN’s Innovative Approach to Empowering 2SLGBTQIA+ Communities

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Ontario Digital Literacy and Access Network (ODLAN) © Pexels/Andrea Piacquadio

Our world is becoming increasingly digital—the constant flow of information, social connections, and essential services via the internet have become an integral part of our daily lives. However, for some, technology remains a luxury behind barriers, such as lack of internet access.

Stephanie Jonsson, a PhD candidate in Gender, Feminist, and Women’s Studies at York University, researches the intersections of aging, queerness, and new technologies. During the pandemic, she noticed time and again that members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ communities she was in touch with experienced isolation and loneliness. Admirably, Jonsson said, organizations moved much of their programming online for a wider reach, but something was still amiss.

“As somebody who spent a lot of time online and grew up with computers,” she shared, “I was quickly starting to question: how are 2SLGBTQIA+ seniors going to stay online? How are they going to get on to all these queer social programs that have magically popped up online overnight? How are we going to make these programs accessible?”

Spurred into action by the situation, Jonsson co-founded the Ontario Digital Literacy and Access Network (ODLAN) to address the challenges that 2SLGBTQIA+ communities faced in accessing the digital world and while using it.

The Human Impact

ODLAN started as a community-based pilot initiative built on a study that looked at barriers 2SLGBTQIA+ older adults, affectionately called “rainbow seniors,” were experiencing while accessing remote services during the pandemic. The non-profit established a resource database to connect 2SLGBTQIA+ organizations with tech-focused organizations so the two sectors could collaborate to bridge the digital divide.

“If a rainbow senior was struggling with digital mentorship for support, I would connect them with an organization, like Connected Canadians, which offers free services for digital mentorship support,” Jonsson explained. “That’s why the resource database was created: to consolidate all the different programs that exist and make it clear which programs were queer-affirming. I really didn’t want people to have to hide parts of themselves to access any service.”

The lack of digital access meant that rainbow seniors were also facing barriers in accessing essential services, like digital check-in processes at healthcare facilities.

“[Access] becomes more limiting for equity-deserving groups—queer community members who may not have biological family support,” Jonsson said.“They may be relying on their chosen family to support them, and those chosen family members might not be available to do everything they need in their day-to-day life.”

As she dug deeper into the issues caused by inequities in digital access, Jonsson noticed just how crucial digital inclusion was—and not just for rainbow seniors. ODLAN has since evolved to advocate for digital inclusion, safety, and accessibility for 2SLGBTQIA+ communities.

ODLAN’s latest work, The Internet Isn’t All Rainbow, shows the far-reaching effects of the barriers to the digital world, particularly in relation to the rising trend of anti-2SLGBTQIA+ hate in Canada’s online spaces, especially toward dedicated 2SLGBTQIA+ organizations. The report highlights various forms of online hate, exploring the impacts on the mental health of 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals and addressing the need for support strategies and measures when online hate transitions to physical or in-person violence.

By providing educational resources like webinars, infographics, blogs, and live speaking engagements, ODLAN is working to support 2SLGBTQIA+ organizations in being prepared to meet the evolving needs of the communities they serve.

Supporting ODLAN’s mission means contributing to a world where everyone can thrive and fostering a community that ensures no one is left behind. Consider becoming a local sponsor, making a donation, or exploring the wealth of free online resources offered by ODLAN. “Together, we can bridge the digital divide for a brighter, more inclusive future,” said Jonsson.

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ODLAN offers a directory of existing digital literacy and access services along with our own resources on how the digital divide is impacting 2SLGBTQIA+ communities.

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