How can we improve digital inclusion for seniors?

The barriers seniors face to accessing digital technologies can severely impact their quality of life. But digital inclusion policies can tackle this issue.

Seniors face significant barriers to accessing digital technologies and the benefits they provide. For example, in the US, a third of Americans over 65 have never used the internet. This lack of digital inclusion can significantly impact seniors’ quality of life, independence, and ability to participate in the digital economy.

Digital inclusion is about ensuring that everyone, including the most disadvantaged, has access to and can use Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs).

A Pew Research report found that about a third of internet users aged 65 and over lack confidence in using electronic devices and completing online tasks. This can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation.

More than two decades into the 21st century, many people still do not have broadband access. As a result, they are excluded from the digital landscape simply because they do not have the facility to ensure decent internet access in the digital age.

People over the age of 65 are least likely to have broadband access. A Pew Research survey found that only 64% of over 65s had broadband versus 86% of 30 to 49-year-olds.

And people who live in rural areas and are in lower-income brackets are the least likely to be connected, contributing to the digital divide.

There are several ways to improve digital inclusion for seniors. Key strategies include increasing access to affordable devices and broadband internet and ensuring digital literacy programs are available and accessible to seniors.

Better public libraries in rural areas

The National Digital Inclusion Alliance describes digital equity as a condition in which all individuals and communities have the internet technology capacity needed for full participation in society, democracy, and the economy.

But there are still large chunks of the population that do not have access to reliable broadband, let alone the skills necessary to participate in the digital world. Libraries can offer the infrastructure needed to access the internet.

But about 60% of remote rural areas in the US do not have access to library systems. Further, those areas with access are often not connected to other branches. This means they have limited resources and a general lack of information technology facilities.

As a result, older people in rural areas that do not have broadband access may struggle to obtain digital access.

While the average American lives 2.2 miles from a library, in rural America, the average person is at least 4.9 miles away from a library.

Where there is existing infrastructure, staff in rural areas support patrons with digital literacy and provide free wifi for users. These facilities are used where they exist, as one in five library visitors have used a computer in a rural area.

Improving facilities in rural areas by forming more links between larger libraries and existing infrastructure could be a step in the right direction in terms of ensuring otherwise remote communities have access to wifi and other digital services.

But as the most remote rural areas still struggle from a lack of facilities, true digital inclusion will have to include the creation of more facilities too.

Access to digital literacy training

Another way to ramp up digital inclusion efforts is by providing digital literacy training for older people. Many older people may have great internet service providers but may lack the confidence to use their internet connection.

Empowering people to use new digital technologies through fostering digital literacy skills is a great way to ensure seniors have the confidence and ability to fully utilize the technologies available to them.

And while robust technical support systems can be helpful, the idea is to empower people to manage their own digital experience.

This can be done through interactive digital literacy programs, for example. These can be carried out by carers in senior residential facilities, librarians, or even digitally literate family members or friends.

There are several free resources available to help with these efforts. These include:

  • AARP’s Senior Planet aims to help older people find new ways to thrive in today’s digital world through free classes, tech tip videos, and local community centers.
  • The Digital Age Project, a free toolkit and ‘how to’ course on teaching digital literacy to seniors, can be used by anyone who wants to teach older adults, whether in a senior care home setting or a public library.
  • Candoo’s platform aims to provide tech support and training for older people. It offers free how-to guides, as well as paid classes.

McAfee also provides guidance around teaching older people about technology and suggests focusing on cybersecurity first.

But while all these resources help people get to grips with technology, they’re not so great at empowering people and giving them a platform to exploit what they know. That’s where we come in.

Improving digital inclusion for seniors

There are a few key ways to promote digital inclusion for seniors. These include increasing access to affordable devices and broadband internet and ensuring digital literacy programs are available and accessible to seniors.

We can narrow the digital divide and break down the barriers that keep seniors from accessing the digital world with concerted effort. By doing so, we can help seniors stay connected and engaged with their families, friends, and communities. And we can ensure that they have access to the valuable resources and opportunities that digital technologies offer.

What is Age Group doing to improve digital inclusion for seniors?

Here at Age Group, we recognize that enhancing digital literacy is vital for improving seniors’ quality of life.

While more seniors use the internet than ever before, the numbers who don’t – or are unaware of how to use connected technology – are still far more significant than they should be.

We can make a significant difference to seniors by helping them make the most of the digital universe they’ll encounter once they have the confidence to use a smartphone or can get online. That’s why we’re building our own digital universe – because digital inclusion is much more than just the ability to get online.

Our digital universe – the AgeVerse – will bring seniors together to help them get even more out of life:

  • We’ll tackle loneliness by helping them access our digital community, where they can meet new people online or even find new friends who live nearby.
  • We’ll educate people further on how technology can help to enhance their quality of life.
  • We’ll give them simple, accessible information about everything they need to know about their finances, lifestyle, and health, giving them the confidence to make decisions and live life to the full.

The AgeVerse won’t just help enhance digital inclusion in the traditional sense of getting seniors online and confident using a smartphone; it’ll give them everything they need to unleash and enjoy everything amazing about their later years.

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