DeKalb helps connect seniors, people with disabilities to the Internet

By Thomas Verschelde

NIU participates in a project dedicated to bringing high speed Internet to low-income families and senior citizens.

The “Getting Illinois Low Income Seniors and People with Disabilities Online Demonstration Project” will provide 3,000 people with high-speed Internet and create nearly 100 jobs, according to a press release.

Connected Living Inc. organizes the project and provides the service to 23 public housing facilities around northern Illinois.

NIU is an external evaluator for the project, but the project is also a research opportunity for NIU, said James Ciesla, professor in the College of Health and Human Sciences.

“The aim of the project is to encourage low-income seniors and people with disabilities who live in low-income housing to become computer and Internet users,” Ciesla said.

Diana Robinson, interim director of the Center for Governmental Studies, said NIU is in a unique position over other public Illinois universities because it recently received a federal grant to lay fiber optic cables in the area. Fiber optic cables allow high-speed Internet to reach homes.

“Developing the physical infrastructure was only the first step,” Robinson said. “This project is the beginning. With it, we can further explore how broadband can improve people’s lives.”

Robinson said one of the goals of the project is to allow people to take advantage of the Internet.

“Connection to the Internet and the skills to use it will reduce the social isolation of these people and help them connect in a meaningful way to the economy,” Robinson said.

Robinson said NIU has developed a number of committees through the Division of Outreach Engagement and Information Technology that are interested in broadband-related research.

“[This project] is a stepping stone into a much broader exploration between high-speed Internet connectivity and regional prosperity,” Robinson said. “But if we want to continue to move forward, we need to keep pushing the envelope in research, market analysis and additional evaluation studies.”