Are non tech savvy older adults being left behind in a digital world?
The COVID-19 pandemic has made technology access even more important for our everyday services. Not only has ordering groceries and household goods online become the norm, banks and libraries have also expanded their online presence. Everything from seminars, classes, book clubs, support groups and social parties have moved to the world of video conferencing. Even doctor’s offices are now routinely using telehealth and video chat appointments.
How does this shift to online services accommodate older adults who do not have access to online services? Even if they have access, they may not feel comfortable using online services. We know it is not only older adults who have this concern, but statistically speaking, older adults are the age group with the lowest percentage of online use. While it has grown in recent years to approximately 75 percent with access, this still leaves many without online services.
Older adults may have internet access but learning to navigate the complicated online systems may be difficult. Creating accounts with two-step verification, scanning and uploading documents are some of the many hurdles’ seniors face.
When new services are rolled out, they often start with an online option, and only later add in alternate call or mail in methods. While this is more efficient for the service provider, and allows for a quick and wide distribution, it leaves many older adults behind in accessing these services.
In December, the California Department of Motor Vehicles announced anyone, including older adults, could now renew their driver’s license online. It caused much stress that they had not simultaneously opened a mail in renewal option. Now, however, you can call the DMV and request a mail in renewal form. However, this method is usually more time consuming.
The vaccine distribution also began with only online access for scheduling appointments. Local senior centers and agencies were flooded with calls from worried older adults who did not have online access. Now, thankfully, there is a call-in option available. For Ventura County the number is 805-477-7161 and in Los Angeles county the number is 833-540-0473. However, people with internet access can check the websites any time of day or night and get important updates. People without computer access, however, may feel left out and increase their anxiety over not having the most recent updates in the vaccine rollout programs.
Another current issue is with free tax preparation for older adults. Services through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program or the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program used to be available via in person appointments. Because of the pandemic, people are asked to upload or scan documents, as well as provide information online. There is a hybrid option available at the Goebel Adult Community Center where they will help you scan the documents and you do not need to have your own internet access. However, these programs are inundated with calls because the need is so great for this type of assistance and the options are so scarce. You can reach the Goebel Center at 805-381-2742. You will need to leave a message and be patient. They will return your call.
For people who have little or no access to the internet, you do have options, however, you will need to have more patience and may need to wait on hold for a long time. If you are someone who does have internet access, you might consider reaching out to friends and neighbors who do not and offer to assist them.
If you decide to venture into the digital world make sure you find what technology is most convenient, easy to use and affordable for you. There are two main options, a tablet that connects to cellular data or a tablet or computer that connects to a separate Wifi router.
The California Department of Aging offers information and resources to help older adults bridge this digital divide. These resources include access to affordable high-speed internet and information on how to stay safe online. You can learn more here: https://www.aging.ca.gov/covid19/Digital_Divide/
Access to services needs to be available to every member of our community, regardless of their technology abilities. The rapid transformation to a digital world has been immensely stressful for older adults, especially those who live alone. As a community, it is up to all of us to ensure that no older adult gets left behind or left out of important information, resources or services.
Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org