By Trish Altass, MLA District 23 Tyne Valley-Sherbrooke
Official Opposition Critic for Health and Wellness
In today’s day and age it can be easier than ever for some to stay connected while staying apart. The internet and programs such as Zoom, Skype, and Google Classroom allow us to work, communicate, and collaborate across the province and around the world.
We are even providing some essential services online, such as access to healthcare professionals and education. Assuming you have the necessary tools such as computers, phones, tablets, and – of course – reliable high speed internet, the possibilities are almost endless.
Supporting Islanders and providing services during this crisis is not simply checking a box once initial steps are put into place. As the situation progresses, it is essential to consider who is being left out. Who are facing barriers to access these services? What can be done to remove those barriers?
Barriers affecting rural Islanders
Often it is thought the easiest route to reach most people is via the internet. Many of the programs and services being rolled out rely quite heavily on the use of technology and in particular reliable high-speed internet. However, assuming all Islanders are able to access these supports by applying for them online would be a mistake.
For example, rural Islanders generally do not have access to reliable, stable high speed internet. Also, low income Islanders may not be able to afford computers, smartphones, data plans, and access to the internet.
The current crisis we face is not a quick sprint: it is more like a marathon. As we continue to move through this unprecedented time, we encourage government to consider what additional measures can be taken to best support the diverse range of individuals and families whose lives have been disrupted by COVID-19. This especially includes those living in the more rural areas of our province.
We have seen improvements, but barriers remain
We have seen some examples where modifications have been made to support programs that were rolled out quickly and fell short in meeting the needs of many rural Islanders. For example, ADL/potato packages will be made available in three locations outside of our urban centres this weekend. Government is also expanding its giftcard program to include locally accessible stores. These are important steps. However, those without reliable transportation continue to face barriers to access, whether they live in urban centres or rural municipalities.
Until everyone has reliable internet and public transit services, we must be willing to continue to make services available to Islanders by bringing those services to where they can access them. This means also utilizing traditional methods of communications instead of heavily relying on digital access to reach Islanders. As I have said before, during times of crisis, no one should be left behind.