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Oakland Families Get Wired and Connected With Help from Tech Exchange and Blue Shield of California

Viviana Montano has a 13-year-old daughter with disabilities who suffered a traumatic brain injury. Montano’s daughter goes to school in Oakland. Her mom says she has trouble retaining information, making some classes difficult for her, but art class is a place where she shines.

The issue: The class requires a tablet to do the assignments, and Viviana couldn’t afford one.

Viviana Montano

Enter Tech Exchange, an Oakland non-profit organization that bridges the digital divide by supplying low-income families with technology, access to the internet, and technical support. Blue Shield of California donated an array of iPads, iPhones, Apple Watches, monitors, video VoIP speakers, and headsets over the last year to this nonprofit to help struggling families. Montano’s daughter was the recipient of an iPad from Tech Exchange and Blue Shield.

“As a child with disabilities, my daughter already feels so different,” Montano said. “She felt even worse when everyone else was doing the assignments, but all she could do was sit there. However, when I brought the iPad home, she was so excited athat she stayed up all night to do two weeks’ worth of homework.”

Viviana is like many Oakland residents who struggleto put food on the table. She is an assistant manager at a Goodwill store and leaves the house at 7 a.m. , returning home after dark. Computers are something beyond her financial reach, so Tech Exchange has been a lifesaver, she says

“We help the community with digital inclusion,” said Samuel Aristondo, operations manager at Tech Exchange. “If you don’t have a computer in the home or access to the internet, you’re going to fall behind, especially kids in school.”

The pandemic increases reliance on tech hardware

As the pandemic closed schools and turned homes into classrooms, Tech Exchange was part of OaklandUndivided, a city-wide program to ensure all K-12 students had access to computers and the internet. At the onset of the pandemic, only 12% of students had technology needed for remote learning, but after distributing 27,000 laptops, 10,000 hot spots, and fulfilling 10,000 tech support requests, the program was successful in connecting 98% of students to technology.

Being connected digitally not only has helped students with their education -- it has helped families lead healthier lives during the pandemic. “Technology is directly related to health,” said Samuel. “There are so many vulnerable people out there. It connects people to information on vaccines; they can Google health tips; and most importantly, they can have e-visits with their doctors.”

Health outcomes are at stake

Adam Barde, senior director of Health Transformation Implementation agrees. He drove the effort to donate tech goods to Tech Exchange. “It’s meaningful for Blue Shield to help fill an important need in the community to help individuals and families have access to technology.”

According to Adam, only 20%of positive health outcomes are directly related to health care. The other 80% are related to food, shelter, and having a stable job to pay the bills. Having access to computers and the internet helps not only with school, but also with job searches, sourcing free or reduced-price healthy food, and finding a place to live.

“We hope that having access to technology, which so many of us take for granted, will enable community members to achieve better health outcomes by making telemedicine visits to doctors, finding  better employment opportunities, and being successful in school,” Barde said. “That’s how we can all stay healthy.”