Expense of entering the information age leaves some people keyless

It's difficult to not get discouraged.

Carol Hammer, 65, is unable to work and lives on a fixed income. She has no car. She has limited minutes on her phone. She relies on donated canned good for meals and neighbors for interaction. By the time the final week of the month comes around, Hammer eats popcorn for meals, she said.

"It used to be that if I wanted something I'd go out and buy it– now I sit and dream about it," Hammer said.

Lately she's been dreaming about a computer. To Hammer, a computer would mean opportunity, she said.

She often see advertisements on television telling viewers to use their computers to "find out more”"about a product, program or deal. She’d love to have a computer to search for discounts, find coupons and spend less money on long-distance phone calls. There are family members she'd love to send an e-mail to, she said.

"It is a viscious cycle and it goes round and round and round," Hammer said. "It frustrates me, and I think it is wrong."

So does her friend Barbara Blackburn. In the last couple of years she's watched television, she’s heard more commercials telling her to use a Web site for more information, but she can’t.

"It's just weird that they put things out there for sale and they don't give a number or an address," Blackburn said.

There is just no way Hammer could afford one. She said it's yet another way for the cycle of poverty to continue. If more businesses would advertise with phone numbers it would help, she said

"There’s a lot of 'ifs' in your world when you are poor," Hammer said. "This is a big 'if' for myself and a lot of people."

Computer access has become a "real challenge," for a number of people who come in for help at Catholic Charities in Olathe, said Mina Foster, case manager.

"It's an issue and it has been an issue," Foster said. "It is the information age, but how is everyone supposed to get information when you can't afford it?"

It's an issue for people who are on a job-search and an issue for low-income families, especially when their kids have computer-related homework, Foster said.

"I found you sometimes spend eight hours on the computer when you are doing a job search," Foster said. "At some places you have to sign up for (the computer) and you only have an hour. We’ve become a computer world. Now you do resumes online. Without a computer it’s hard to be competitive."

Few places offer computer access, she said. Catholic Charities offers classes that teach computer skills. Some people rely on their workplace for their children to use computers for class assignments, while others use the library, she said.

The computers at the Olathe Public Library allow people a one-hour limit for computer and Internet, said Courtney Hansen, a library assistant.

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