“I don't think any of us would deny that everyone deserves to have a road and to be able to turn their lights on and drink a glass of water. We are now at that place for the Internet” - Sidnee Peck, Televeda.
Access to modern technology is quickly becoming essential to well-being in today’s increasingly technology-driven world, but not all communities have the resources to acquire and use modern technology. Among those most affected are marginalized and underprivileged groups, who are disproportionately likely to lack convenient access to the internet and necessary devices.
In response to this disparity, and as part of a broader federal initiative, Televeda has emerged as a proactive force in addressing Arizona’s digital divide. For another extra deep dive, check out our article on project manager Saffie Jagne and her experience in addressing this digital divide.
Televeda is implementing many initiatives, but by speaking with team member Sidnee Peck, we got a good look into three primary projects: the Arizona Health Improvement Plan (AzHIP), an initiative created by the Arizona Department of Housing; the Tribal Connectivity Project, a Televeda initiative in collaboration with the Arizona Department of Veteran Affairs (ADVS); and Hero’s Story, a Televeda enterprise.
Sidnee Peck is the project lead for Hero’s Story and, in collaboration with Televeda founder Shruti Gurudanti, the project lead of AzHIP and the Tribal Connectivity Project.
Through these three projects, Televeda has one overarching goal: combat social isolation in veteran and Native American communities.
Sidnee shared that the Arizona Department of Health Service created AzHIP to reach and promote the well-being of any and all unreached populations in Arizona. Televeda, therefore, joined this initiative to focus on unreached Native American populations.
The Tribal Connectivity Project, on the other hand, aims to reach Arizona veterans who are not tapping into their VA benefits or participating in the veteran community. With ADVS, Sidnee and team are endeavoring to raise the percentage of vets who use any of their VA benefits—from free health care, to fun activities, to mental health care.
Hero’s Story, then, combines the goals of the two prior projects by targeting Native American veterans. Currently, Sidnee and team are in the early research stages of building a product proposal which seeks to combine traditional Native American healing practices with modern mental health care and technology to make an accessible digital environment for Native American vets.
Digital inclusion serves all underprivileged communities by providing the resources to get involved in online community and health resources. As is the belief of the Arizona Department of Health Services, Televeda firmly believes that no communities should experience digital exclusion and its consequences, so why is Televeda focusing specifically on Native Americans and veterans?
As the technological landscape expands, a stark digital divide grows along socioeconomic lines, hitting Native Americans and veterans hardest.
The statistics for Native American communities reveal that the American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) population ranks at or near the bottom across various social, health, and economic indicators. This community bears an unfair burden, facing an average poverty rate of almost twice the national average. As Sidnee pointed out, these statistics are very much related to historical distrust created by American government entities and organizations.
Mental health and substance use disorders stand as major contributors to premature deaths within AI/AN populations, resulting from diseases, suicides, and injuries. A similar scenario unfolds for veterans as well, with a disproportionate rate experiencing mental disorders, substance use disorders, and other afflictions.
These striking circumstances, though, are not the only unfair burdens that these populations have faced. Sidnee highlighted that the intersectionalities of these populations and the complexities that arise in those add another level to the difficulty of finding digital inclusion as an underserved Native American or veteran community. The colonization and historical mistrust built from the many horrible things done to these communities contribute to greater barriers in getting these populations connected to the digital world.
Sidnee also noted that these populations often reside in rural areas where broadband connectivity and transportation can be very inconsistent: “we have tried to [download antivirus software] multiple times and every time the Internet goes out so they can't do it… I mean, this is a federally flagged effort.”
With the time it takes for vans to come pick people up for health care appointments, delays in scheduled transportation, driving a vehicle from within a reservation to an appointment, and being able to schedule an appointment without having internet at home, physically attending appointments and events is not simple for these populations.
Alongside ADHS and ADVS, Televeda sees these problems and has set out to help these populations according to their wants and needs.
Sidnee and team emphasize the significance of consistent engagement with these communities. “Being there, showing your face, providing support, calling regularly… that’s really how you build trust.” Organizations often come and go within a flash, Sidnee explains, so this continued engagement helps demonstrate Televeda's commitment to the project.
Another method through which Televeda has been able to build trust is by partnering with external sources. “It doesn't help when a group of [predominantly] white people show up in a tribal environment and say, ‘We know the answer for your problems.’ What helps is when any humans say ‘We’ve built something and we want to partner with you to help us build it better for you. And so we bring in tribal liaisons.”
Tribal liaisons allow Televeda to effectively convey their ultimate goal in a manner that initiates bountiful relationships between team members and community members. Televeda is also working with nonprofits and other organizations who have greater understanding of these communities.
Hero's Story,AzHIP, and the Tribal Connectivity have all made great progress thus far. A standout achievement that Sidnee gladly recounted was the emergence of storytelling groups for urban indigenous veterans as part of the AzHIP project.
Sidnee recounted how cherished these weekly meetings became, how veterans would line up at the door more than a half hour before storytelling groups began, solely out of excitement.
“It’s very rare to have something in our lives that we’re like: ‘I can't wait to do this thing this week.’ That is so powerful and to see the same people show up a half an hour early and to be eager… it really illustrated for me how deeply rooted the storytelling modality is and how it’s deeply craved.”
Televeda is currently operating primarily within three tribes, and seeks to eventually expand over time to twenty-two tribes in Arizona as the Hero’s Story research continues and AzHIP outreach grows. Additionally, Sidnee and team are seeking to help the Tribal Connectivity Project reach more veterans.
With multidimensional approaches encompassing Hero’s Story, AzHIP, and the Tribal Connectivity Project, an unwavering commitment to breaking down barriers and helping these underserved communities according to their wants, and a focus on meaningful community engagement, Televeda is making an impact in the lives of some of Arizona’s most digital excluded citizens.
Through these projects, the power of connectivity, cultural understanding, and holistic wellbeing converge to create a future in which no one is digitally deserted.