Innovation

Six-time Olympic medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee wants to close America's digital divide

Jackie Joyner-Kersee of the United States competes in the finals of the women's long jump competition Aug. 2, 1996 at the Olympic stadium in Atlanta (Reuters).

Jackie Joyner-Kersee of the United States competes in the finals of the women's long jump competition Aug. 2, 1996 at the Olympic stadium in Atlanta (Reuters).

Six-time Olympic medal winner Jackie Joyner-Kersee has a new challenge in her sights – ensuring that low-income families across the U.S. have access to the internet.

Joyner-Kersee was recently named a national spokeswoman for Comcast’s Internet Essentials initiative to provide low-cost high-speed internet service, as well as free digital literacy training.

“Programs like this are of value so that we can continue to bridge that gap,” she told FoxNews.com. “We sometimes take it for granted that everyone has access to the internet.”

Internet Essentials has connected 750,000 low-income families to the internet since August 2011, according to Comcast. The program has also provided more than 47,000 subsidized computers at less than $150 each.

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Young people play a crucial role in helping bridge the digital divide, according to Joyner-Kersee. “If we teach them, they can teach the whole family,” she said. “Maybe the older people are embarrassed to ask [about technology] – once their eyes are opened up, they see that this is another form of communicating with the family.”

“Truly it’s going to make a difference across the board, we can’t isolate or exclude anyone,” she added.

Joyner-Kersee represented the U.S. in heptathlon and long jump at the 1988, 1992 and 1996 Olympics, winning three golds, one silver and two bronze medals.

Involved in community work since the 1980s, Joyner-Kersee set up a charitable foundation that is now based in her hometown of East St. Louis. In 2000, the foundation built a youth and sports facility in East St. Louis to replace a neighborhood community center that closed years earlier. The new facility will receive a donation of computers, printers and a large-screen TV as part of Internet Essentials.

“As an athlete I wanted a level playing field – this gives our young people and our families a level playing field,” Joyner-Kersee told FoxNews.com. “It allows our young people to be innovators and be in the digital space.”

Nonetheless, the retired athlete says that young people should appreciate the vast quantities of data at their fingertips. “I grew up in an environment that really taught you a lot about being patient,” she said. “We have to teach them that it’s ok to wait an extra five minutes.”

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers