An inclusive society begins with equal access to public services

Carmen Raal on digital well-being

Article content

Internet connection was a way for me to learn about the world before I could start travelling. As a young child, this opened the whole world to a small-town girl like myself. 

I started watching foreign TV series online since most shows were a couple of seasons behind on TV, and I was too eager to find out what happened next. The series were mostly silly, but I took my time translating every sentence because they were only available in English. Very simply put, this is how I learned English. 

Equal access to public services

Internet connection was a way for me to learn about the world before I could start travelling. Later, this was how I managed to find international projects to participate in and start seeing the world, not just behind the screen. Hence, my experience with Internet access as a small-town citizen is incredibly positive.

But digitalisation is so much more than watching series online and finding a way to travel. It is a way we can make our societies more inclusive. By making public sector services available online, we can alleviate accessibility problems in a significant way. This way, we can ensure that in case of Internet connection, every person can have equal access to public sector services, regardless of where they live – a small village or far away from their country’s physical borders. People with health conditions don’t have to worry about how to access public sector offices and expose themselves to masses of people during the pandemic.

Internet as a social right

This is why we like to talk about having access to the Internet as a social right (not to be confused with human rights as it is sometimes done in some articles about Estonia!) in Estonia. Besides having the possibility to, without limitations, access public services, nowadays, this is where the opportunities exist. I cannot leave it unmentioned that providing easy access to primary ICT education goes together with finding said opportunities online. 

There is another problem with public sector services. Often, people in need who are also eligible to receive help are not even aware they have the right to get any assistance from the state. This tends to happen with the most vulnerable; in this case, having just online services is not enough. Suppose we have the data that indicates a person is eligible to receive a particular service. Why do they still have to find the assistance and bend backward to prove they are eligible to receive it? Therefore, nowadays, we are moving towards proactive services – if we have the information, that should be sufficient already to start providing the necessary help. 

Proactive public e-services are the future

Proactive government services are the future we have to strive for because most of the public services exist for a reason. Since I don’t have a family with kids, I am not eligible to receive family benefits. I am also currently not unemployed (obviously); hence I cannot get an unemployment allowance etc. These benefits exist for a reason, making sure that people get timely help, and could significantly shorten the period they stay in this vulnerable state. 

Speakers’ Corner is an article series where the e-Estonia Digital Transformation advisers talk about the digital society and their personal experiences related to using public e-services. 

Written by
Carmen Raal

digital transformation adviser at the e-estonia briefing centre


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