Community Cares Spotlight Blog #3 - Regions and Emergency Digital Inclusion Funding
Introduction to Digital Inclusion
The COVID-19 crisis and the need for distance learning has exposed the technology disparity in school districts across the country. While this disparity isn’t new, the coronavirus has triggered a global movement to shift classrooms online which has prompted a new drive and motivation to resolve this disparity. Many school districts in the last ten years have tried to improve technology equity by providing Chromebooks, iPads, or tablets to youth in middle or high school grades. However, the device is only one part of the battle towards full inclusion.
Digital equity is the condition in which individuals and communities have the technical capacity to participate in society. This digital equity is necessary to provide all individuals opportunities at employment, education, and civic engagement.
The barriers to digital inclusion that currently exist at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI) are many and as diverse as the students impacted by the school. While the common thread among our students is a visual impairment, each student has a varying degree of vision loss and acuity. Their vision ability is what drives the type of adaptive device and application that is most appropriate for the student to learn and communicate. This means there is not one type of device or digital application that would best serve all of our students as reflected in most school districts across the country. Many school districts hand out one type of device to all of its students and use one unified platform for students and teachers to utilize for instruction and learning. This type of approach just isn’t applicable at ISBVI.
IBCF, in partnership with ISBVI, is now seeking emergency funding of $69,852 to immediately provide full and appropriate technology support to 15 ISBVI students and families this summer. The idea is to pilot and test learning management platforms that are accessible and integrate well within technology serving children with visual impairments with a goal of then launching a full technology campaign that funds technology for all 128 full-time ISBVI students.
Regions Bank is the first donor to step up and generously support this effort, so we spoke with Kathy Lovell, Senior Vice President, Disability Services and Outreach Manager; Kim Borges, Vice President, Market PR Specialist; and Schiela Peña, Vice President Community Relations Officer; to hear more about the “Why” behind their support of this digital inclusion initiative.
Regions Financial Corporation is a bank holding company headquartered in the Regions Center in Birmingham, Alabama. The company provides retail banking and commercial banking, trust, stockbrokerage, and mortgage services.
Written by Braden Worrell
Question: What is the relationship like between Regions and IBCF?
Kim Borges: This reflects so much more than just connecting at a surface level. Our relationship with IBCF is something that is truly an integrated partnership. I knew and worked with Laura Alvarado before she started as IBCF’s first Executive Director. We reconnected and became involved with ISBVI through the Nine13 Sports “Kids Riding Bikes” program, then it really just snowballed. In January of this year the school was gracious enough to welcome us to the campus for an Officer's meeting, and it was amazing to see our associates observe the culture of the school and experience the attitude towards independence in just an hour and a half. This is a place about what's possible.
How is this Digital Inclusion initiative going to help these students?
Kathy Lovell: We believe that this is an important community that hasn't always been included in the conversation, so providing this distance learning support gives ISBVI students the same opportunities that other students are given – which is really important. It's giving students the opportunity to advance and be independent. I fully believe that individuals with disabilities should be given equal access to develop their skill. Even though an individual may be blind or may have low vision, there should be no limits put on them as far as what they want to do with their life and how they want to live.
We have no idea where we're going with this COVID-19 future. These students don't deserve to be left behind. They need to have the same opportunities to grow and develop and be successful individuals in the future. By fostering this type of program, it gives individuals with visual impairments the opportunity to learn on their own terms and in the way that they learn best.
Considering this year marks the 30th anniversary of the ADA being signed into law, why is this year an important time to give to digital inclusion initiatives like this?
Schiela Peña: Regions is truly pleased to be able to make this contribution, especially as we look to the future and further advance our community partnership with IBCF. This donation demonstrates our commitment to advancing educational opportunities and helps ensure digital inclusion for ISBVI students.
Kathy Lovell: I can’t think of supporting a more meaningful project than this in honoring the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, legislation that's devoted to promoting equal access for everyone. We look forward to having other corporate and community partners join us in supporting this effort to make technology accessible to all students at ISBVI.
We have taken a very proactive approach in addressing the ADA. The one thing I'm most proud about at Regions is creating a culture of disability awareness. So, when we develop a new product or service, there’s no convincing our business group partners that it’s important, our teams embrace it as part of our culture. I think the technology piece is particularly important because of what we're going through right now with the pandemic. We've realized that we’re going to be relying more on technology, so ensuring that technology is accessible is key.
We’re looking for ways that we can be more accessible and work outside the box. I think one of the best ways to do that is forming these types of partnerships and listening to the individuals that are using the technology. You listen to the non-profits that are working with those consumers to make sure you're getting it right. It’s about spending a lot of time getting out into the community and developing relationships and partnerships so that we have a better feel for what we're doing and if we're on the right track. I think technology is the key to the future, especially with distance learning.
I also think that's the reason why this opportunity is the right time with our current environment and celebrating the 30th anniversary of the ADA in a unique way – but also realizing that there's more work to be done.
How has No Limits influenced Regions involvement with this Digital Inclusion donation?
Schiela Peña: I’m the mother of two small children and we had the opportunity to have the kids go to the No Limits Matthew Whitaker concert last year. It was overwhelming to see how Matthew engaged with my boys. I have a child with a disability, he's on the spectrum, and had a hard time dealing with all the things that were going on, and Matthew and his whole band dialed into him. As a mother you think, here's somebody who has a disability who is reaching out to someone else to help them be strong. That's what Matthew said, “He's strong, you're fine, you're going to be great.” I look back at that and think that there's something more that these students and staff are offering that you know these kids would not get anywhere else.
Seeing how Laura and her team have worked so hard to make sure that they’re really knocking down those barriers and making sure they’re always considering what’s possible, it makes you think “oh my word.” It’s a way of flipping the script and having a different perspective on life and saying “there are No Limits.”
ISBVI students absolutely need the technology; the need is critical. It's helping to remove a barrier so the students can keep up and continue to learn. It was great that we have the ability to be an advocate. We have great partners throughout the bank that helped move things forward quickly.