When we first contemplated the method we would employ to introduce older adults to technology, we took an inventory of the non-profit partner resources that were already available to the seniors:
1. Two companies that distribute refurbished computers
2. A training company with a couple locations around the city with sessions that were held at their facilities on specific dates and times
3. Several advocates working on and promoting broadband expansion
These organizations are all working hard on these worthy, individual initiatives, but the low-income seniors with whom we planned to work faced several practical challenges to getting connected:
1. Limited or no transportation options
2. Disabilities, including dependence on wheelchairs and walkers
3. Cognitive challenges, including limited vision, early onset dementia, prior stroke or Parkinson's disease
With this in mind, we moved forward with this strategy:
1. Focus on a limited number of applications to start. Email (and setting up an address if they don't already have one), Zoom video conferencing (for video calls), Facebook and the companion Messenger (to connect with family and friends), and internet browser. Other entertainment and news apps are added at initial set-up based on individual requests
2. Employ tablet technology. Tablets are easy to hold and navigate. Most seniors have smart phones or government-issued phone and have "swiped" before. Tablet covers that would "snooze" the device when closed, eliminating the need to turn it on and off. We also included a stylus for those folks with larger fingers or hand tremors
3. Password-protected Wi-Fi hotspots that are "set and forget". We pair them with their tablets and tell recipients to plug them in and forget about them unless they're taking their tablet outside their apartment. Then just put the hotspot in their purse or pocket and take it with them
4. One-on-one setup and initial orientation with a Virtual Navigator, and then regular, additional weekly, individualized training and support. Finally, weekly on-site training, focusing on continued orientation and skill expansion
To date, this concept (with a tweak or two) has proven effective in connecting our senior clients to virtual resources. Certain older adults present challenges to a efficient, initial set-up, but we've been assisted in that set-up by family or friends of the client. We've employed signing services for the hearing impaired, and distribute ear buds with each tablet to aid in listening to audiobooks and music.
But the most important piece of a successful client set-up is patience on the part of the client and Virtual Navigator. Clients often come to their scheduled session with multiple past email addresses, phone numbers and passwords they don't remember. But, with that patience, we can work through those challenges and the client leaves with a new, clean, organized digital footprint and the skills to start them on their Virtual journey.
Simply Virtual participates in Amazon Smile. Amazon donates a portion of every purchase to help us provide low-income seniors with tablets, computers and content.