Impact of Digital Inclusion on Communities: Older Adults
The holiday season means that many will seek the perfect gift for loved ones but for many this year, affording gifts will be challenging. Rising inflation has increased the price of everything, and with soaring costs, budgets are already stretched, especially for those who live on a fixed income as many older Americans do, according to CNN. From personal experience, I know older people with fixed incomes are cutting back on everyday items in response to inflation. This includes reducing doses of prescribed medications to make monthly supplies last longer, forgoing healthier but pricier fresh foods, and suspending internet subscriptions and other digital services to free up funds. Beyond cutting back, many older adults see no other alternative but to re-enter the workforce to make ends meet. So, what does life look like for people on the wrong side of the digital divide, and what can be done about it?
Ageism may contribute to the digital divide.
Internalized cues from society, such as patronizing speech aimed at older adults by younger generations, and denial of employment or appropriate medical treatment, may have a detrimental effect on seniors’ self-perceptions about their competencies. According to the Journal of Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine, this internalization may contribute to the negative effects of ageism and the digital divide itself. Limited self-perceptions about technology create self-fulfilling prophecies for older adults, increasing the likelihood they will not engage with the internet.
The Stanford Institute on Longevity reminds us that the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated how the digital divide greatly affected older people who complied with stay-in-place orders and that it is alive and well in communities of seniors who are aging in place, contributing to isolation and poor mental and physical health. Since broadband adoption is linked strongly with affordability and relevancy, we must seize this opportunity with lessons learned from the pandemic to get seniors affordably connected to a quality device they know how to use in relevant ways (AARP, 2021).
Bridging the digital divide among older adults will require cooperation and collaboration.
In recent years, internet subscription and tablet ownership rates have increased in those 65 and older, according to Pew Research Center, as has smartphone ownership which is now estimated at 61% for people over 65. Despite these gains, “America’s older population is facing a public health crisis as the digital divide restricts their ability to stay healthy, meaningfully engaged, and financially secure amid the pandemic and beyond,” said Thomas Kamber, executive director of Older Adults Technology Services. According to Business Wire, research by the Humana Foundation demonstrates that seniors continue to fall behind in internet connectivity rates. Moreover, digital inclusion efforts aimed at older adults are scattered at best, with large portions of the country having little to no age-friendly efforts to get seniors connected or familiar with digital tools.
A bright spot is that once older adults are exposed to digital technologies, they become more regular users, and according to the Gerontechnologist, 71% of older people go online every day. This exposure likely means 1:1 in-person support to learn new digital skills. I found similar results in a pilot I designed for seniors to learn tablet skills with the Miami-Dade County Housing Authority.
Here are digital inclusion resources aimed at older people:
- Lifeline and the Affordable Connectivity Program can help reduce the cost of monthly internet bills or make subscribing completely free for eligible households. You can even purchase a computer for under $49 or check out GrandPad.
- Aging Connected helps seniors find and connect to affordable broadband.
- Senior Planet by OATS, Generations on Line, Google Foundation and AARP, Ready, Set, Bank by Capital One (also available in Spanish), Tech Goes Home, Skillful Senior, TechBoomers, Goodwill Community Foundation, Teach an Old Dog New Tricks, and Sarasota Technology Users Group provide in-person, hybrid, or virtual training for seniors.
I am proud and thrilled to be entering my ninth year championing digital inclusion efforts everywhere in the U.S. For more information on how multi-sector partnerships can cooperatively and collaboratively close the digital divide among older adults, email firstname.lastname@example.org.