The pandemic was instrumental in making older people more familiar with technology. Thanks to organizations like Senior Planet, older people rapidly learned about telemedicine, ordering groceries online, and even getting exercise classes and socializing in a Book Club.
But what about the people who don’t have access to technology – either because there’s no available broadband, or they can’t afford an internet connection, or don’t have the equipment, or don’t know how to use it?
They might as well be in a desert. A digital one.
“Barrier to entry is really high for seniors in order to start using or feel comfortable using devices or the internet.”
-Deirdre Lee, Program Coordinator of Senior Planet Colorado
According to one report, “often overlooked or even unknown until now is that of the 21.3 million people without access to 25/3 [high-speed internet] as reported by the FCC in their latest broadband progress report, almost five million people and/or 2.2 million housing units had access to no provider. More worrisome, more than two-thirds of these unserved housing units were in rural areas.”
Mind the Gap – and end it
Fortunately, more and more organizations are stepping up to end digital deserts – and more and more programs are being offered to help:
The Aging Connected Initiative: Seniors who can’t afford access to technology can turn to Senior Planet’s Aging Connected initiative, which helps them find and obtain connectivity, based on certain parameters. More info on Aging Connected, which can help low-income seniors, can be found here.
The Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB): The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently announced the Emergency Broadband Benefit. This FCC program helps families and households struggling to afford internet service during the COVID-19 pandemic. It will provide a discount of up to $50 per month towards broadband service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on qualifying Tribal lands, plus a one-time discount to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers (some conditions apply).
For an easy walk-through of the EBB program, how it works and how to apply, visit Senior Planet’s Aging Connected website here.
Senior Planet classes and information: Senior Planet now offers a full slate of online classes, programs and webinars to help seniors become smart shoppers of technology devices, better understand the devices they have, and how to access resources, socialize, exercise, bank and more digitally.
The Senior Planet Licensing Program: As much as it would like to, Senior Planet’s classes and information can’t be everywhere at all times – but its newly created Licensing program can. This Program, still in pilot form, will enable local organizations nationwide to help older adults access technology and use it to enhance their lives. The Senior Planet licensing structure works with community-based organizations to develop local trainers to deliver Senior Planet’s proprietary curriculum and bring Senior Planet’s world-class programs to older adults in their area.
Deirdre Lee, Program Coordinator of Senior Planet Colorado and Britta Willson, Program Coordinator at Providence Health & Services are testing pilot programs that improve accessibility to technology for older adults in Oregon and Colorado communities.
“Barrier to entry is really high for seniors in order to start using or feel comfortable using devices or the internet. Connections that are available can be limited and very expensive or result in weak connections that are more susceptible to weather,” Lee points out.
The Senior Planet licensing program provides tools, coaching, and curriculum through partners like local libraries and senior centers – rural communities in particular can be the most underserved. Its “Train the Trainer” series will prepare licensed trainers to deliver Senior Planet virtual curriculum locally.
Why it’s Needed
“I noticed that some people who had signed up for programs could not figure out the technology.”
-Britta Willson, Program Coordinator at Providence Health & Services
According to Willson, who had been leading health promotion programs in-person and virtually at Providence Health & Services, “I noticed that some people who had signed up for programs could not figure out the technology. Senior Planet played a big part in us staying connected to folks and being able to offer programs.” Willson also worked with her Area Agency on Aging and AAA to provide iPads to older adults who were hesitant to use them.
One person’s story
One pilot participant in particular, Sue Ann —an older adult turned Senior Planet Trainer – knows the difficulty a digital desert can cause…even if its just due to inability to understand the technology.
“Once you finally learn how to do something, it’s just wonderful because it opens up so many opportunities that we couldn’t take advantage of before”
“I was pleased to be a part of the first pilot program,’ she says. “Once you finally learn how to do something, it’s just wonderful because it opens up so many opportunities that we couldn’t take advantage of before.”
Speaker of her own experience as an older adult Sue Ann continues, “Our experience at learning lots of new technology is not as broad as a younger person. We are a little more hesitant to learn different platforms, devices, programs,” she explains. “We really like to be helped one on one.”
Older Adults Technology Services is now accepting applications from local organizations nationwide to participate in a second pilot. Is there an organization near you that you’d like to suggest?
Any organizations interested in learning more can visit https://oats.org/licensing/