Many still on margins of information society

9 Oct 2003

Nearly 40pc of Ireland’s adult population do not see the internet as being relevant to their daily lives, a new report from the Information Society Commission (ISC) has shown. The organisation has also earmarked a number of groups within Irish life at risk of being excluded from developments in the information society.

In its report, eInclusion – Expanding the Information Society in Ireland, the ISC identified a number of sectors of society as being ‘late adopters’; these include 78pc of all women with home duties (or 425,000 people), 90pc of all retired people (or 235,000), 85pc of all workers in agriculture, forestry or fishing (or 145,000) and 73pc of unemployed people (or 90,000).

Commenting on the report, Inez Bailey of Information Society Commission said: “Around half the Irish adult population do not currently have access to the Internet. But what is perhaps more worrying is that only one in five of these express an interest in having such access – leaving over 1.2m Irish adults who simply do not see a value or relevance in these technologies. Failure to address this problem today will mean poor ICT skills becoming the literacy problem of tomorrow.”

The ISC has also called on the Government to prioritise the introduction of a follow-up to the CAIT (Community Application of Information Technology) initiative. The original scheme, which ran from June 2001 to December 2002, was aimed at encouraging those who were late adopters of technology to use it in beneficial ways that would address issues around disadvantage and exclusion. Backed by a budget of €8m, CAIT supported more than 70 such community-based projects.

“It is the Commission’s view that there are essentially two sets of issues that need to be addressed,” said Bailey. “We must build the capacity to use these technologies on the one hand, while seeking to create the conditions that make their use more relevant to peoples’ lives on the other. In a climate of budgetary constraints, we must also be careful to ensure that available resources are targeted towards those at greatest risk of marginalisation.”

Overall, the ISC has made six key recommendations to the Government: to ensure that ICT literacy is developed as a core focus of all government-funded education and training provision; to build community-based programmes to promote engagement with ICT among disadvantaged groups and individuals, including supporting the ICT capacity of relevant community and voluntary sector organisations.

It further highlighted the need to promote recognised ‘e-champions’ in the local government sector to foster appropriate partnership-based ICT initiatives involving the business community, the education/training sector and community development groups, grounded in responding to recognised local-level needs. It urged the adoption of imaginative ways of making ICT relevant through the e-government process, in addition to helping community and voluntary groups get relevant content online by rolling out an easy-to-use solution through the local government sector.

Lastly, the ISC has encouraged accessibility for people with disabilities through monitoring levels of compliance with the NDA’s IT Accessibility Guidelines, and keep under review the need for further compliance measures.

By Gordon Smith