AIDS non-profit to help bring Internet to poor

    Philadelphia FIGHT, an HIV/AIDS service organization, has been making the Internet accessible to people with HIV and AIDS for 15 years. Until 2008, they ran a dial-up internet service provider that brought the internet into the homes of  12,000 people since 1995. Now,  a small computer lab attached to their AIDS lending library allows the group’s largely homeless clientele to look for jobs and research new treatment options online.

    Joe Dutkiewicz has been visiting the lab in Center City for the past few months. He’s looking for work on the computers, but he also likes to talk to other people there about his relatively new diagnosis.

     “You can’t just go to a bar and talk to other people about HIV,” Dutkiewicz said. “It’s the difference between sympathy and empathy, sympathy is I’m sorry and empathy is I’m sorry I know what you’re going through. So a lot of people here empathize with me.”

     The computer lab was founded as a safe place for HIV positive people to access information without fear of judgment. Philadelphia FIGHT’s Director of Education Juliet Fink says research on new medications and treatments can take months or years to be published in books, so having access to the Internet is crucial to managing HIV.

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     “(For) any sort of long term medical condition, the Internet is going to be an essential tool to figure out what are the best strategies in living with and living healthy with the disease,” Fink said.

     Now, the non-profit is partnering with the city and the Urban Affairs Coalition to use federal broadband stimulus money to establish 27 labs at other non-profits and homeless shelters in the city. The group will also extend computer literacy training to the new centers, and expand training offerinings at its own site. Fink says today, even entry-level jobs require online applications, so regular online access is a critical tool toward ending poverty.

     “It is an incredibly important project that we hope to embark on that really puts some attention to the fact that there are people who are being virtually left behind because they cannot access the Internet,” Fink said.

     Fink said the first of the new computer labs should be up and running by the end of March.

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