2022 Charles Benton Digital Equity Awards

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Digital Beat

2022 Charles Benton Digital Equity Awards

Remarks at Net Inclusion 2022 

(as prepared for delivery)

Adrianne B. Furniss

I’m here today to announce the 2022 Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Awards. Before I do so, let me first give a big shout out to our selection committee co-leaders, Yvette Scorse from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance and Robbie McBeath from the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society. And, given the number of applications we received this year, I want to express my gratitude to the 2022 selection committee for their time and careful consideration. Please give a big hand to Leana Mayzlina, Geoff Millener, Deb Socia, Casey Sorensen, Ann Treacy, Alisa Valentin, Gwenn Weaver, and Leon Wilson.  

We are here to honor three people who have demonstrated commitment, innovation, leadership, and collaboration: the very skills we need to navigate us through very trying, interlocking crises—and to steer us to a more equitable, more just society.

Our 2022 Emerging Leaders are Erica Camacho and John Torous, both at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Erica is the Director of Digital Inclusion and John is the Director of the Division of Digital Psychiatry. Erica and John have fostered two community programs that focus on digital inclusion for an underserved population—those with serious mental illness needing to connect to care during COVID-19.

The first program, called Digital Outreach for Obtaining Resources & Skills or DOORS is a digital education curriculum offered in-person and online.

DOORS equips patients—including young adults experiencing first-episode psychosis and veterans—with digital learning, self-confidence, and skills that are essential to one’s ability to connect to telehealth and to access care.

The primary focus of DOORS has been to serve those with mental illnesses—such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, and PTSD—where access to care is often limited. Many of the people DOORS has worked with were forced, because of COVID-19, to suddenly adapt to online care but they had never been taught how to use the internet, access the internet via their smartphones, and use technology for their mental health.

The second is a Digital Navigator program which offers 10 hours of training to equip individuals with the tools necessary to teach DOORs and serve as a resource to those using technology to access care.

Erica and John designed both programs with collaboration in mind, working with people with lived experiences, clinicians, and researchers to ensure program tools were usable and engaging.

The programs have already been adopted by others like Easters Seals of Greater Houston, the Connecticut Mental Health Center, the Massachusetts Mental Health Center, and community-based teams like the Los Angeles Department of Mental Health.

Please join me in honoring Erica Camacho and John Torous—the 2022 Emerging Leader Awardees—and welcome Erica to the stage who will accept the award.

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Tobey Dichter founded Generations on Line in 1999 (1999!) with a unique approach to digital literacy for low-income, vulnerable older adults: nationwide, free, person-centered learning.

When we told Tobey about the award, she wrote, “I am overwhelmed with gratitude and nostalgia! Benton was the first place I turned to 22 years ago when we launched Generations on Line. And ten years ago this May, I spoke at a Benton conference.” I also learned that my predecessor executive director at Benton, Cecelia Garcia, was on the Generations on Line Advisory Board.  As we celebrate Benton’s 40th anniversary this year, I am so grateful to the many people who have passed along their stories of collaboration. Tobey, thanks so much for sharing your memories!

Over the years, Generations on Line has partnered with over 2800 organizations to help over 195,000 elder learners. What phenomenal reach!

Now, you might think—oh, how important for seniors. But, honestly, how important for all of us. Just one quick example: Generations on Line helped thousands of low-income seniors feel comfortable completing the online 2000 U.S. Census. So, just think of the impact that had on how governments distribute funds and assistance and how developers decide where to invest in supermarkets and homes and hospitals.

Tobey has sought to reduce major barriers to true universal broadband—including access, skills, and, well, the intimidation factor which works against so many people new to the internet. She made the program free and built alliances with five familiar outlets: public libraries, senior centers, assisted living and low-income subsidized housing, and retirement communities.

Generations on Line targets the neediest elders: the old, those in deep poverty, the unconnected, the homeless, and the homebound. And after years of helping low-income, inner-city seniors, Generations on Line tackled rural communities and helped 7,000 seniors in 35 rural counties throughout Wisconsin. Next year, some 5,000 needy, digitally-illiterate people will get free tablets with new Generations on Line guides to literacy, telehealth and vaccination.

Tobey DIchter is one of very few who has lobbied and speaks out about the ongoing digital divide for seniors, particularly the most vulnerable. In 2015 she was named one of the 50 Most Influential Leaders in Aging. The expansion of internet users over age 65 from 14% in 2000 to 75% today is due, in part, to her advocacy and solutions.

My gosh, I could go on and on about Tobey and this crucial work, about her ability to create a digital inclusion ecosystem for older adults. But perhaps, like me, you’d rather hear from her. Everyone, please welcome the 2022 Digital Equity Champion Award winner: Tobey Dichter, Founder & CEO of Generations on Line.

 Adrianne B. Furniss is the Executive Director of the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society.

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.

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