COLUMBUS, Ohio — Federal money given for more technology to address the digital divide hasn't solved the problem in some communities.

What You Need To Know

  • Columbus is home to one of the largest Bhutanese refugee populations outside of Bhutan

  • Access to technology is not the issue, rather language barriers to use the information once access occurs

  • One of the challenges is how to get information for the community to take care of itself, health-wise, because of the language barrier

  • Researchers hope to encourage better construction of broadband access, while zeroing in on educational programs

Jeffrey Cohen, Ph.D., Professor of Anthropology at Ohio State University, along with others, studied the Bhutanese refugee community in Columbus during the first couple of years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said they learned that having the technology and access to the internet was not the problem in this community.

“The problem became one of how to use that technology," said Cohen. "And this came down to issues of culture, of practice of history and of language.”

He said that the challenge was really about helping a community not necessarily comfortable with “using English-based information on the internet.”

Cohen said this was important to researchers, especially since the Bhutanese community includes a good number of people who are at risk for things like diabetes and heart disease. The goal for researchers was then to look at how they could get information to the community to take care of itself.

“While people have access, what we discovered was that nearly three quarters of that population wasn't able to use that. So people were not using things like telehealth and this went back to two issues, like a mistrust of the technology, as well as just a lack of understanding in terms of how to use the technologies,” Cohen said.

Proficiency levels in English, age, gender, and the experiences they had as refugees when they came to Columbus put many in the community at a disadvantage.

As a result of the research findings, Cohen said “I'm beginning training projects so that they can really teach people how to use things like cell phones to access the internet, to feel comfortable about, you know, telehealth and talking to your health care providers, not in person, but online.”

In the meantime, Cohen is hoping city and state leaders, along with organizations, will work to build better broadband access and, where there are cultural or linguistic issues, that there will be a focus on educational programs.