COVID-19 and the Digital Divide: Insights from the experts

UPDATE: you can now listen to or watch the recording of the Dialogue & Debate webinar on COVID-19 & the Digital Divide on the Cumberland Lodge website.

I was fortunate to be invited to participate in a recent webinar hosted by Cumberland Lodge, a charitable foundation that empowers people, through dialogue and debate, to tackle the causes and effects of social division.

The webinar brought together a trio of experts to debate and discuss the crucial challenge of bridging the UK’s ‘digital divide’ – a challenge only exacerbated by the advent of COVID-19.

The discussion drew on key findings from the newly-published Cumberland Lodge Report ‘Digital Inclusion: Bridging Divides’ - you can download the report from the Cumberland Lodge website along with a recording of the webinar in video, or audio versions.

About the debate

Image of 4 participants on Zoom conference call

Chaired by Cumberland Lodge Chief Executive Canon Dr Edmund Newell, the webinar was live-streamed on Wednesday 5 August. He was joined by guest panellists:

Key questions explored:

  1. Which groups in society are most disadvantaged by the digital divide? Are socio-economic inequalities key indicators of digital exclusion? 
  2. Technological innovation has helped communities to deal with the disruptive effects of COVID-19, but what has this meant for those who lack the skills, resources or confidence to embrace digitally-driven change?
  3. Online teaching and remote working have been the subjects of research and debate for some time, yet no one expected the sudden and comprehensive global transition we have seen during the pandemic. Is this rapid acceleration towards a more digital society a positive consequence of the pandemic? Or has it only exacerbated the existing divide and left the most vulnerable and disadvantaged even further behind? 
  4. The UK Government is working towards increasing digital access and training in the short-term (for instance, by providing free hardware and software access), in response to the pandemic. Can we expect this support to continue? What more could be done by the Government and other civil actors to address inequalities in accessibility? 
  5. Beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, do you foresee an increase in the number of people who work from home? What might be the consequences of this for those who are less well-equipped for home working? 
  6. How do you think our relationships have been affected by changes in our digital lives? As more relationships move online during the pandemic, is this causing people to feel more connected to wider and more diverse social circles? Could this aid social mobility? Or does it just worsen feelings of isolation? 

I think we’d all agree that this is an important area of research, discussion and debate.

If you’re involved in digital in any shape or form then both the report and its findings (that formed the basis of the discussions debated in the webinar) represent an invaluable backdrop to inform decisions and future digital strategies of organisations and individuals alike.

I would invite you to watch the webinar in full and sign up to future events on digital inclusion, hosted either by Cumberland Lodge or indeed by ourselves here at AbilityNet; we run regular online events about assistive technologies and digital best practice for a wide range of audiences.

About Cumberland Lodge

Aerial shot of Cumberland Lodge building and grounds

Founded in 1947, Cumberland Lodge has been tackling the causes and effects of social division through cross-sector dialogue and debate and by building networks with the power to make a difference.

A 17th-century, former Royal residence in Windsor Great Park, Cumberland Lodge has been home to an educational foundation since 1947. It’s a distinctive venue in the heart of Windsor Great Park, noted for historic rooms, excellent food, modern conferencing facilities and exceptional quality of service. In case you’re wondering why I’m including this ‘plug’ for the venue, every booking helps to support their extremely worthwhile charitable activities - so feel free to explore its website that has information on hiring Cumberland Lodge for conferences, weddings and other events, so you can bear it in mind when things return to some sort of normality.

Download the Cumberland Lodge report.

Further resources

Free AbilityNet webinars coming up in August

Register Now: Accessibility Insights with Neil Milliken

1pm, 11 August 2020

Register Now: Accessibility Anti-Patterns

1pm, 18 August 2020

Register Now: Introduction to Digital Accessibility

1pm, 20 August 2020