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In a world where modern technology is growing to be essential in daily life, people without modern technology are at a disadvantage. These disadvantages most commonly affect marginalized and underprivileged communities, which are of the greatest likelihood to lack easy access to the internet and devices.
As a part of the federal initiative to ensure that nobody is left behind in today’s effort to digitize a large majority of everyday tasks, Televeda has taken the initiative to bridge Arizona’s digital divide and promote digital inclusion in local underserved communities.
Two projects with these goals are the Arizona Health Improvement Plan (AzHIP), an initiative created by the Arizona Department of Housing, and the Tribal Connectivity Project, a Televeda initiative in collaboration with the Arizona Department of Veteran Affairs (ADVS). We spoke with the manager of both projects, Saffie Jagne, to learn more about the progress and internal workings of these projects.
AzHIP, as Saffie states, focuses on combating social isolation and loneliness among vulnerable populations, particularly people in rural and underserved areas. To work towards this goal, Televeda aims to provide these communities with the resources necessary to get involved in Telehealth connections. Access to Telehealth services helps participants receive the mental health care and sense of community that they deserve.
Saffie’s second endeavor, the Tribal Connectivity Project, specifically addresses veterans in rural or remote areas who are not equipped with the resources to take advantage of veteran benefits, and who thereby lack the sense of community so necessary for a veteran.
Towards this end, Televeda and ADVS collaborate to provide veterans and the Veterans Services Centers with technology such as Chromebooks, printers, and tablets. With these devices, veterans can access telehealth appointments, veteran benefits, and other online services.
Digital inclusion plays a pivotal role in addressing social health challenges, especially within veteran and Native American communities, where combating isolation is of paramount concern. In an increasingly technological world, lack of access to technology deprives populations of services, information, and social interactions that can majorly combat isolation and loneliness.
Populations of lower income most commonly possess less technology than those of high income, as do U.S. adults in rural areas and U.S. adults who have not attended any college.
With the U.S. American Indian/Alaska Native population ranking “at, or near the bottom of, nearly every social, health, and economic indicator,” including averaging almost twice the national poverty rate, Pew Research Center’s statistics unfortunately hit hard for AI/AN populations.
Additionally, and believed by Televeda to be in relation to the social indicators, mental health and substance use disorders are a “major cause” of premature death among AI/AN populations, mainly due to “disease, suicides, and injuries.”
Veterans, similarly, experience a disproportionate rate of mental health disorders, substance use disorders, post-traumatic stress, and other afflictions. A 2015 paper synthesizing research on U.S. veterans reported that one in three medically examined veterans were “diagnosed with at least one mental health disorder.” Furthermore, the paper reported that less than half of the total veteran population at the time was both enrolled in and using the Veteran Affairs health care.
Considering the absence of technology in the lives of American Indians and veterans, as well as the statistics regarding American Indian and veteran health, digital inclusion has the potential to transform the lives of these underserved communities. As Televeda helps Native American communities merge their traditional wellness practices with the digital age while still preserving cultural heritage, Native American communities can gain access to new health services and communities. And through helping individuals get set up with online support networks, veterans can find solace in shared experiences and break down the walls of isolation that often arise from the unique challenges that they face.
To eradicate the perpetuation of exclusion and isolation prevalent in these communities is essential to improving their social, health, and economic wellness. According to a 2022 study, digital inclusion is the way to go about this, so much so that it “should be viewed as a priority for the mental health services.”
By recognizing the significance of digital inclusion, Televeda has the opportunity to make headway in ensuring that veterans and Native Americans have equal access to the resources and connections that significantly enhance social well-being, ultimately fostering a stronger, more connected society.
Every project–and project manager–faces challenges, and the projects headed by Saffie are no exception. We asked Saffie to share some difficulties that she has experienced while on board with these projects.
Understandably, it’s challenging to simply walk into historically underserved communities with promises of help. It’s particularly true in this case, since these communities had little to no previous knowledge of Televeda.
Therefore, Saffie and team found that Televeda needed to build trust with the communities by creating relationships with individuals to build a connection between Televeda and the community. The Televeda team sparked this connection by bringing in the aid of public health workers who knew how to effectively reach out to the communities.
By forming these personal relationships between the project team members and individuals within the communities, Televeda has been able to provide help tailored to the communities’ wants and needs.
In the Tribal Connectivity Project, Saffie and team came to realize that many veterans did not take advantage of their benefits because they didn’t know of all the programs and resources available to them. Raising awareness has become one of the main goals that members of this project are striving to achieve, which they’re doing by collaborating with public health workers who know how to effectively reach out to veterans.
Despite just beginning, both AzHIP and the Tribal Connectivity Project have already produced significant successes.
Thanks to Saffie’s team and public health workers managing to build stronger relationships, community members have been eager and excited to get involved with the technology that Televeda has to offer.
This story, shared by Saffie, illustrates the importance of bringing digital inclusion to the lives of underserved communities.
An older man living in Arizona had extremely limited access to technology and the internet. He was very unaware of modern technologies, even more so than many other individuals with whom the team has worked. “That led to a lot of frustration and discouragement [for him], but our team was so determined to make a difference,” Saffie said.
The team approached the situation with patience and encouragement, and Saffie spent extra time herself going to his house to guide him through using a tablet. After a few slow and steady months of nurturing the man’s progress, he started grasping the technology.
“His confidence started to grow and he let us know that learning how to use the tablet made such a profound impact on his life,” Saffie excitedly shared. “He mentioned that he started having better memory, that he was impressing people at his church with his technology skills…He would take it to his church and show off to everybody.”
While reflecting on the experience, Saffie was also happy to recall him making new friends on the Televeda platform, attending Televeda classes, and getting reconnected with the world in ways that may never have occurred without AzHIP and Televeda.
The “transformative power” of the AzHIP project is what inspires Saffie: “We’re truly making improvements in individual lives and it feels really good.”
Both AzHIP and the Tribal Connectivity must track metrics to measure overall efficacy of the projects.
The AzHIP project is measured by the number of people who are engaged and connected through the Televeda platform. The greater the number of people finding community through Televeda, the more successful Saffie and her team have been in their undertaking.
As for the Tribal Connectivity Project, Televeda has veterans fill out a waiver form when they use the tablets and Chromebooks provided by Televeda. Through these forms, Televeda is able to monitor usage of devices and can assess whether the amount of usage increases over time, which is the goal of the project.
With these metrics, Televeda is able to determine the influence of these projects. The team can use the metrics to evaluate methods and opportunities for improvement or expansion–ultimately bettering the long-term effectiveness of the projects as Televeda connects with more communities.
Saffie Jagne’s dedication to her Televeda team and her involvement in the Arizona Health Improvement Plan and the Tribal Connectivity plan are truly commendable. Through these initiatives, Televeda is playing a pivotal role in empowering underprivileged and veteran communities, ensuring that they are not left behind in the rapidly advancing digital world.
As technology continues to grow, humans must grow with it. Through AzHIP and the Tribal Connectivity Project, Saffie and the rest of the team elucidate that the true essence of progress lies in ensuring that every human has the means necessary to take advantage of health, community, and mental wellness resources.