Why technology access is more important than ever before

No one predicted what would happen this year in January. Computer Aid was set to have an incredibly busy and active year, with the planned opening of at least 3 Solar Learning Labs, 2 new Digital Schools projects, and plans to gain even more IT donors for our secure disposal service, but when Covid-19 changed all our plans we responded the only way we could - providing equipment. 

We saw a boom in the number of requests for equipment from organisations all over the world, with millions of students suddenly expected to connect to their studies remotely, and organisations adapting to working from home, technology has never been more essential than it has been over lockdown. And although we had a surge in requests, with offices being closed we also had a sudden drop in equipment being donated for us to refurbish, leaving us with far more demand than supply. 

As an organisation we supported the opening of a temporary refurbishment centre in Islington which is still functioning now, accepting donations for digitally excluded individuals as identified by Islington Council. We also processed as many requests for equipment as we could from UK organisations. It’s the stories of these organisations I want to share today to offer real-life examples of how technology has been a lifeline for people during this global paradigm shift. 

Why was the equipment needed?

The majority of requests we received fell into two categories; working from home and education. Learners needed to work from home, complete assessments, continue coursework and access online materials. We were also told that many of the beneficiaries used the computers to access mental health resources, and reduce their isolation by staying in contact with friends and family. 

We also heard from many organizations that the equipment was being used to continue their organizations to run, while their staff and volunteers adjusted (as we all did) to working from home, allowing social media campaigns to continue, allowing new staff to be employed, and allowing staff to stay in contact with each other. 

Was there an alternative?

Within a few days of the lockdown announcement, lower-cost equipment had sold out in most online vendors, but even the lower-cost equipment being bought was out of the budget for a lot of the organisations we worked with, so a lot would have been left lacking technology without our subsidised machines for non-profit organisations. 

“Very expensive alternatives and it wouldn’t have been economically viable.”

- An organisation who received laptops during the pandemic.

A few other organisations and initiatives popped up to try and assist in this area, but the larger campaigns focused more on phones and tablets, and the smaller ones found a similar supply vs demand issue that we were having. There was also the issue of people selling supposedly “refurbished” equipment, which quickly broke:

“A client that bought a secondhand laptop on the internet, it ended up being a waste of time because the components failed quickly, not to mention that the battery life was poor”

- An organisation who received laptops during the pandemic.

Some service users reported that despite being able to apply for IT equipment from the government, there wasn’t a timely delivery, and they would have had to wait months to receive equipment:

“despite being entitled to one from their school or the local authority if in care, they haven't received one until the end of June.” 

- An organisation who received laptops during the pandemic.

The overwhelming response we received from those organisations we asked, was that there are few alternatives providing good quality, low cost equipment for non-profit organisations in the UK. 

How did the equipment help?

Personally, without ICT equipment, I’m not sure what lockdown would have looked like for me. I come from a place of privilege where I’ve never struggled to access information and entertainment from technology, which I’m sure a lot of people reading this can relate to. During the time when I was on lockdown in London, I played video games, watched Netflix, worked on my personal computer, and of course, looked at my phone at least 100 times a day to communicate with friends and family. Judging by twitter at the time, that's what the majority of online people were doing to distract themselves from the odd situation we all found ourselves in. We often take for granted how easy communication has become, which is why reading the responses for this question gave me a bit of a reality check. 

“An estimated 60,000 children in the UK lack any internet connectivity at home, while 700,000 are in homes lacking any laptop, desktop or tablet.” -

Digital access, skills and confidence among 11-18-year-olds in the UK, A research paper by Lloyds Bank in partnership with the Learning Foundation

A lot of the responses talked about how essential a connection to the outside world became when our usual routines were interrupted. One recipient, a single mum, was so grateful that she was able to have adult conversations with people and share her concerns with her tutor while staying at home with her kids. 

Because of technology, important work was continued:

“Our staff were able to continue our vital work, raising funds for our projects, and most importantly, electronically transfer funds to our beneficiaries in South Sudan, Uganda and Jordan. Most of these beneficiaries are hospitals and Children’s home’s, so it was very important that we were able to continue supporting them from home during the lockdown.”  

- An organisation who received laptops during the pandemic.

We heard a lot about how the technology benefited mental health and reduced feelings of isolation, one story being a young refugee suffering from PTSD, anxiety and depression, who has been able to continue education and build skills, keeping their routine as close to normal as possible. Another organisation said the equipment helped their beneficiaries to access online therapy, and  another story mentioned that when everything was closing down around them, communication helped them to keep in touch with zoom as they didn’t have access to a smartphone:

“ He was granted refugee status shortly before lockdown so it’s fantastic that he was able to continue working towards his future and building his skills even under lockdown.”

- An organisation who received laptops during the pandemic.

“The laptop and communication practically saved my sanity and saved my life.”

- An organisation who received laptops during the pandemic.

We heard stories of how other organisations were affected by lockdown, for example, the huge increase in demand at food banks, and the importance of reducing empty homes in the UK:

“Over the first three months of the epidemic, we distributed more food aid than all of last year.”

- An organisation who received laptops during the pandemic.

 “C19 has increased the policy focus on long term empty homes and we had a lot of work to do responding to requests for information and taking advocacy initiatives.

- An organisation who received laptops during the pandemic.

In summary, it’s our belief that this pandemic has finally brought the digital divide to the public's attention more than ever before. As a society, we need to address the deep inequalities with access, training and internet which we have in this country. Our mission is to create a world where everyone has equal access to technology. You can help us achieve this in a few ways:

  1. Reach out to corporations and ask them to use our IT Disposal Service for their technology, either through social media or personal connections

    Donate ICT Equipment
  2. For your personal IT equipment - although we cannot collect personal equipment, if you’re in London you can take it to our temporary refurbishment centre, which will be open until December 2020: 

    Mildmay Community Centre, 
    Woodville Road, 
    N16 8NA
    Mon-Fri 10am-6pm
    If you’re outside of London ask your local council if there are any similar schemes going on in your local area.
  3. Donate funds to help us work on more projects to reduce the digital divide

    Donate Funds

“Computer Aid is doing a fantastic job in helping to keep the communities connected during these times. What you have done has meant many people's quality of life has improved that little bit”

- An organisation who received laptops during the pandemic.