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With over a million apps now available to smartphone users
it's easy to believe that there's an app for everyone. Sadly that's not the
case. The target for cell phone apps is largely a mainstream one.
specifically to address the needs of low-income and underserved communities in
the United States are few and far between – despite the fact that smartphone
adoption rates are higher within minority communities where social services are
in greater demand and poverty tends to be more concentrated.
According to a November
2012 Pew Internet and American Life Project report, a higher percentage of
African American and Latino cell phone users have downloaded at least one app
in comparison to Whites. These same ethnicities are heavier users of the mobile web, send more emails and texts, and are more likely to conduct mobile banking
transactions via mobile phones.
using mobile apps are more
likely to develop apps for potential supporters and donors rather than for the
people they serve directly.
good news is that a number of organizations are hard at work tackling the "app
gap." Organizations like Applications for Good and Code for America are engaging developers
to build mobile tools with the needs of local communities in mind.
Applications for Good-developed app, called MyTaxBack, allows
users to easily calculate the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The EITC offers
tax refunds for individuals or families earning $48,360 or less (in 2010). The
IRS estimates that as many as 25% of people eligible for the EITC never file
for it – missing out on an average credit of $1,700. Applications for Good
features a catalog of currently available apps, and those in need of developer
support. They target health, education, jobs, and finances.
to efforts to build community-relevant apps, a number of initiatives designed
to train youth from underrepresented communities to build mobile apps have
recently launched. Among these are Youth Radio's Mobile Action Lab, the Hidden Genius Project,
Iridescent's Technovation program, and Black Girls Code.
surprisingly many of the apps developed by participants in these programs are
developing apps to address needs and opportunities in their own communities.
Youth in the Mobile Action Lab program, for example, developed Forage
City – an app which allows people in a local communities to share
community-specific mobile hackathons and competitions have also been rolled out
in recent years. Random Hacks of Kindness, for
example, regularly sponsors hackathons to rapidly develop web and mobile phone
solutions in sectors like health and education.
have a long way to go before the "app gap" is fully addressed, thanks to
efforts like those above, significant progress is being made to level the
forward, the more that developers, community leaders, activists, and those most
in need of services themselves can work together on relevant app projects the
greater the likelihood that we'll truly have apps for all.
Lamb is the principal of Man on a Mission Consulting, a management consulting
firm which focuses on technology for the social good and social enterprise for
Image: homeless man on cell phone, artie*
Becky Wiegand is the Interactive Events Producer at TechSoup.org
@bajeckabean on Twitter
This was beyond my expectation - the population I focus on do not process the ability to speak, but want to tell us something on their mind. An app via pictures and sound on a tablet format would allow them the opportunity to speak and get the answer to a special request. We have a young woman in our Art program that can not speak or use her hands, but paints with her feet. I have often wondered if we were meeting her needs, but have not had anyway to communicate effectively with her. I will continue to read and learn more about the services offered on Techsoup and its partners. Thank you, again, for providing this vital educational tools for our non-profit.