Access denied in minority areas

The news: With the launch of the iPad in April, Apple expanded the opportunities for wireless access beyond homes and smart phones.

Behind the news: Although Chicago is approaching “digital excellence,” many Chicagoans lag behind on Internet access and online literacy, according to a 2009 study of citywide technology use by the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Iowa. The study found that 25 percent of city residents were completely offline, and almost 40 percent faced some barrier to access. Income was the biggest factor determining whether people had home Internet access. Residents with annual incomes of $20,000 or less were 29 percent less likely to have access than those with incomes of $75,000 or more. Of people without home access, 37 percent of Latino and 30 percent of black respondents cited cost as the primary barrier, compared with 14 percent of white respondents.

A Chicago Reporter analysis found that a majority of residents in each of the nine community areas with the lowest range of access–” defined by the study as 52 percent or less–”were black or Latino. Meanwhile, all 15 majority-white community areas were in the highest range–”more than 65 percent–”of access.

Local officials and activists are trying to fill the digital gap. The Smart Communities Program, a collaboration between the city and the Chicago office of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, aims to increase access in five community areas by creating programs tailored to their specific needs, said Susana Vasquez, director of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation’s New Communities Program. “Every community is unique, so we want leaders to create nuanced content and make sure it goes to local institutions,” she said.

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