Building Digital Skills for Seniors
The three stories below were originally posted on Comcast’s Beltway Region website as a three-part series highlighting digital inclusion and seniors in recognition of National Digital Inclusion Week, October 4-8, 2021.
Now more than ever, the Internet is central to our everyday lives. We depend on it to find jobs, complete homework, stay entertained, shop, and access health information. And importantly, we rely on this technology to stay connected with family and friends.
For some people, including seniors, understanding how to use a computer and navigate the Internet can be overwhelming. According to a 2020 study published by the International Telecommunications Union, less than half of the world’s population over 60 years old are online – and engagement declines significantly as age increases.
Through Internet Essentials, Comcast works to provide low-income seniors with the digital skills and products necessary to stay connected with high-speed Internet service, a device, and digital skills training. This is crucial to combating the odds and working to decrease the digital divide for seniors.
We recently connected with three local seniors who shared their stories and the impact that learning digital skills had on their lives.
As a participant in the Internet Essentials Partnership Program with the Cure Club at Johns Hopkins Medicine, 66-year-old Baltimore native Albert Pannell learned how to use a computer and operate a cell phone. Not only did he learn these essential skills, but Pannell also received Internet service at home plus a free tablet and additional digital skills training, which help him stay connected to his 12 children and 24 grandchildren.
I’m still learning to be more comfortable using technology, but I have more confidence now than I ever had before.
According to Dr. Kelly Gleason, assistant professor at Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, “The Internet is no longer a luxury, and thanks to programs like Internet Essentials, it is more accessible than ever. Working with seniors who did not previously have Internet service to spread awareness about affordable ways to connect has been an incredible experience.”
Learning digital skills has been life-changing for Pannell, who feels he’s been exposed to a whole new world: He uses his tablet at church to help others, listen to music, and search Bible verses. Soon, he’ll use his new skills and equipment to enroll in the South Baltimore Learning Center’s GED program.
“Like so many other older people, I had my doubts about going on the Internet and using all these new devices,” said Pannell. “I had to put my fear aside and just do it. Now, I have a tablet that I received through the program, and I can use search engines, type on the keyboard and use email and Zoom. I’m still learning to be more comfortable using technology, but I have more confidence now than I ever had before.”
Former government employee and Washington, D.C. resident Wanda Dudley credits her work experience, as well as her IT-experienced eldest son, for helping her adapt to technology and learn how to navigate the Internet. While she now uses teleconferencing programs for appointments, church and Bible studies, and connecting with family, she knows firsthand about the fears and hesitancy some other seniors have about technology and being on the Internet. She said many of her peers are living in the past and don’t want to adapt to the current times.
Dudley has lived a life of service and loves making a positive difference in the lives of others, leading her to become an advocate for the United Planning Organization’s (UPO) digital skills pilot training program.
“We meet people where they are,” said Andrea Thomas, President and CEO of UPO. “They show us where they want to go, and we give them the tools to get there. Not just seniors – schoolchildren and our vocational trainees risk being left behind in the global marketplace unless they have support to help them reach their full potential. Having partners like Comcast walking beside us means so much.”
We ensured that they had laptops, reliable Internet and computer training, but these are just the first steps to addressing digital illiteracy and digital inequity.
Through UPO’s eight-week digital skills training program, Dudley helped dozens of seniors sign up so they could get familiar with technology. Participants learned how to create and send an email, access the Internet, download and upload files, and use search engines and teleconferencing programs.
“Seniors told us they needed to connect with their doctors, grandchildren, and friends during the pandemic,” said Thomas. “We ensured that they had laptops, reliable Internet and computer training, but these are just the first steps to addressing digital illiteracy and digital inequity.”
Dudley remains committed to helping seniors move into the 21st century and get more comfortable in our digital world. Her advice to seniors is, “Exhale and take the ride because it will be amazing to learn digital skills and see what it can do for you.”
Rosa Carrasquillo, a 74-year-old Peruvian-born Arlington resident, had no experience using a computer or navigating the Internet. Despite a long career in the American hotel industry, she lacked experience with technology. However, she knew having digital skills would be important, especially if she was to return to school to learn English.
Through the Alliance for Arlington Senior Programs (AASP), a nonprofit that helps the senior population of Arlington County maintain an active and healthy lifestyle, Carrasquillo was invited to be a part of the Internet Essentials Partnership Program.
“Somebody said, ‘Do you want to learn about computers? It is necessary to know the basics, you know.’ So, I said ‘okay' because I have never touched a computer in my life in this country. I don’t know anything about that. I didn’t know where to start,” said Carrasquillo.
“Being online opens up limitless access to connect with the world. The pandemic demanded that essential services become more accessible online, from ordering groceries to navigating healthcare, making connectivity an absolute necessity. So, it’s alarming that nearly 22 million older Americans age 65+ lack wireline broadband access at home,” said Amanda Gimble, Director of Aging Connected, which is part of Older Adults Technology Services (OATS), a Comcast community partner. “We are working to bridge the digital divide among seniors by providing resources to get connected with low-cost Internet options and training. Through introductory Senior Planet classes, for example, older adults who are new to the Internet learn to harness the power of technology to thrive online.”
Our partnership with Comcast Internet Essentials is one of the most important and helpful elements in our efforts to help Arlington seniors enjoy better and more productive use of the Internet.
On the first day of training, Carrasquillo had to ask the instructor, AASP board member Linda Sholl, to repeat the steps. “But Linda was very patient with me. I said Linda, I will never learn this. This is not for me. She said, ‘No, Rosa. You can do this.’ I learned something and I am very happy.”
Through her digital skills training, Carrasquillo learned how to search the Internet for photos of African animals, watch movies online, and video chat.
“Our partnership with Comcast Internet Essentials is one of the most important and helpful elements in our efforts to help Arlington seniors enjoy better and more productive use of the Internet,” said AASP Chairman Doug Frost who added that he is deeply moved by how the technology is changing lives.
For the last decade, through its Internet Essentials program, Comcast has been on a mission to help connect low-income Americans to the Internet. Internet Essentials is part of Project UP, Comcast’s comprehensive initiative to help advance digital equity and build a future of Unlimited Possibilities. Backed by a $1 billion commitment to reach 50 million people, Project UP encompasses the programs and community partnerships across Comcast, NBCUniversal and Sky that connect people to the Internet, advance economic mobility, and open doors for the next generation of innovators, entrepreneurs, storytellers, and creators.