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  • Writer's pictureBethany Crystal

How Broad is Your Access?

  1. "I have a lot of tourists that speak Spanish, and I'd like to be able to communicate with them better but don't know the language." ("Have you heard of this app, Duolingo?")

  2. "I make these beautiful handmade jewelry but I live on the top of this hill and when it's not tourist season, it's hard for me to make money." ("Have you heard of Etsy?")

  3. "I received a $100 U.S. bill from Americans but none of the banks around here will accept it because they can't verify if it's real or fake. How can I turn this into dollars I can use to buy things locally?" ("What about Venmo?") This happened so frequently that by the end of my trip, I ended up writing a note to hiking guide about how he could use a few of these services a bit better to help himself and friends. The best way for me to convey that information? On paper.

Leveling the Playing Field Ever since this trip, I've been thinking a lot about what really delineates "broad access" of any system or service. It surprised me how, even in a world where these people also carried small computers in their pockets, they weren't exposed to thee same litany of services that I know and use so often. Even ones that were literally designed to fix some of these exact problems. It takes me the same amount of effort for me to type, "language learning app" into Google's search bar as it does for someone on the other side of the world. But clearly this isn't enough to level the playing field and equalize access. The challenge is knowing what to type. By the way, this isn't only a problem that you get when you travel to remote regions of the world. I've seen manifestations of this in my own backyard in New York City as well. Over the past four years, I've been working with high school and college-aged students in NYC's public school system through CUNY, as well as via a charter school where I sit on the board -- Comp Sci High. Through these interactions, I'm constantly surprised by what remains unknown or stuck inside "the black box" when it comes to questions around technology, business, and career. How would you know what a venture capitalist does unless you've been exposed to their work and their stories in your own life? How would you know how to approach a casual networking scenario unless you had the opportunity to learn from someone else? How would you know that it's OK to apply for a job if you don't meet all of the qualifications if you hadn't first learned that this is a totally normal thing to do? If a tree falls in the forest and there's nobody around to hear it, does it make a sound? If a new website is published on the Internet and nobody knows how to find it, is it still delivering value? Just because something exists on the Internet (even if it's free) doesn't mean it is equally available and accessible to everyone. And this, in itself, is an invisible barrier to access. So it begs the question: How broad is your access...really? And what can you do to stretch it even further?

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