Reflections from our participatory webinar- Phil Parkes

Hi, my name is Phil Parkes, and I am the volunteer Co Ordinator for Expert Citizens CIC. I am also part of the APLE Collective of which Expert Citizens CIC are founder members. I was asked to write this about APLE’s recent Digital Divide Webinar and I thought rather than write a run through of what happened, I would take you through my thought processes and how they have changed over time in relation to this issue.

I didn’t have a great childhood to say the least, followed by a rough early adult life but I feel that has led me to be more solution focused. I finally got the chance to put this into practice once I started to volunteer for the company I now work for in late 2015. Back then the Digital Divide wasn’t really on my radar, I mean I was living in a hostel with a few communal computers, I had access to the library and I think out of ignorance I thought that was more than sufficient. I was also in the midst of addiction and starting to think about getting this in check. This meant I was very inwardly thinking as when you reach that part of your recovery you believe that only you can change things and I think I took this thought process into general life. I believed that everyone was responsible for their own life and had the power to change what they wanted to change, this again was out of ignorance and while certain aspects are true, I realise that there are systematic inequalities that need addressing to allow this.

It was for this reason amongst many others that our workshop focussed on how reliant we were on being online for everything and thinking about exactly whose responsibility it was to provide fair and equal access. I for one believe that this responsibility lies solely with the government and basic free Wi-Fi should be available for everyone and that departments like the DWP who insist on people only communicating online should help with devices. We as APLE are still going strong with our campaign, gaining support from local MP’s, taking our findings to APPG’s and reaching out to organisations to share our vision and help us attain our goal of free access for all and we do not plan on stopping.

During my time as a volunteer and me subsequently becoming sober and gaining employment I became more aware of the societal flaws and inequalities that act as restrictions on people’s capabilities to make changes. It was during my time working with APLE on the Digital Divide campaign that this became all too clear, and this led me to Co-facilitate a workshop at our Webinar. I have come to the understanding that digital access is now a human right. Merely pointing out that people can use a local library is not good enough, why should anybody have to use a public place to do what is now a necessity? The pandemic proved how essential digital access is, you cannot get a doctor’s appointment without the internet, you can’t shop without the internet and I could go on. Many families were forced to decide between the ability to do a full shop and being digitally active with only charities and the communications companies actively trying to close the digital divide, so this was not the case.