Two months ago, Xiu Ping had never touched a computer in her life. If you would’ve asked her about Apple, she would’ve replied (in Cantonese), “Fuji or Washington?”
Fast forward to today: Xiu Ping finds herself constantly staying up until midnight, using her Android tablet to chat with a childhood schoolmate named Kit, nine time zones away in Hong Kong.
What exactly prevented her from wanting to learn technology for 71 years?
False Barrier to Access
Immigrating to America from rural South China in 1987, Xiu Ping wanted to give her young children better opportunities at a brighter future. Xiu Ping carried along a misconception common among many native speakers of foreign languages disinterested in technology — that a lack of English fluency is a barrier to becoming digitally literate, contributing to the growing digital divide in America.
Accidental Foray out of the Divide
On April 20, Xiu Ping, a regular client of Kimochi Senior Center’s low-cost meal services in the Western Addition, was turned away when the kitchen ran out of food.
She walked a few blocks to the Western Addition Senior Center instead, where Community Technology Network happened to be hosting a special event in partnership with Comcast, promoting signups for Internet Essentials, a program that provides affordable Internet access to seniors at only $9.95/month.
Immediately drawn to event signage due to the familiarity of Chinese text, Xiu Ping chose to forgo the meal service, instead asking staff about the event. She learned that not only could she afford the Internet, but she could also learn to use it at various computer labs staffed with CTN trainers.
Convinced that she could actually become digitally literate, Xiu Ping enrolled in Internet Essentials, her fear of language eliminated as an obstacle. She visited nearby Rosa Parks Senior Center afterwards — one of CTN’s many partner locations where technology training is provided — to experience what the computer lab’s learning environment was like.
Beginnings of Inclusion
After one week of basic computer lessons at various labs, Xiu Ping decided it was time for her own device. She wanted to reap the benefits of finally having Internet access at home: “If I could start emailing Kit (in Hong Kong) when he’s awake, I’d be very happy!”
Her ability to learn quickly combined with her newfound interest in technology led her to rapidly conduct research, with some guidance, on owning the right device. She settled on an affordable Android tablet, purchasing it from Walmart.com for $40.
Impact of Literacy
Six weeks later, Xiu Ping’s dedication has transformed her into a technology evangelist of sorts. At Rosa Parks Senior Center, she regularly attempts to recruit new students, both by sharing her story and by demonstrating the impressive capabilities of her tablet.
She reflects on her journey: “I’ve had (Kit’s) email address for almost 20 years, always thinking it was impossible to learn to email him (without asking someone to do it for me). Now we video chat when we’re both awake and send pictures of relatives on WeChat … his family has changed so much in appearance! I can’t imagine where I’d be today if I didn’t miss the (Kimochi) meal. I believe that everything in life happens for a reason. It can be good or bad — but in this case, good!”