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Stay connected in the digital age

People aged 65-plus remain Australia’s least digitally included age group, according to Telstra’s 2020 Australian Digital Inclusion Index report titled Measuring Australia’s Digital Divide.

The age group scored 49.7 index points out of 100, 13.3 points below the national average, based on a number of variables, including an access score of 62.7 (13.6 points below the national average), an affordability score of 51.7 (9.2 points below the national average) and a digital ability score of 34.8 (17.2 points below the national average).

“These results indicate many older Australians are not able to use the internet as an alternative to face-to-face social interactions,” the report said, an assessment hammered home by a closer look at digital ability numbers.

Just over a quarter (28.7 per cent) of those aged 65 and over felt empowered by computers and technology, according to the report, and just one in eight (13.3 per cent) felt they could keep up with technological changes.

“The prevalence of these attitudes among those aged 65-plus has changed little since 2014,” the report said, referencing the year it started publishing. “This data suggests that efforts to increase digital abilities should not simply target basic skill building, but also help build confidence.”

Aiming to do just that, the federally funded Be Connected program offers Australians over the age of 50 access to online resources and a network of community partners to support them to build digital skills and confidence.

One such community partner, the Good Things Foundation, coordinates a national network of organisations, about 350 of them in Western Australia, to aid seniors with technology use.

“There’s a few different parts to the Be Connected program,” Good Things Foundation National Director Jess Wilson said. “One is the online learning content on the Be Connected website and that has fantastic courses that support people to know the very basics, like ‘what is a computer’, for example. But clearly if people don’t know how to use a computer then they’re going to need some support, so we have a network of community organisations all across Australia.

“They have classes or one-to-one sessions where people can go and learn and feel really supported to do that.”

Ms Wilson said many of these face-to-face sessions occurred at retirement villages and aged care facilities.

“We have about 40 retirement villages that are part of the Be Connected network in WA and that looks really different in different places,” she said. “Some of them are resident committees that have come together and said ‘we need to support each other to learn how to do this because to be part of the world today we need to have some digital skills’.

“Others are run by lifestyle coordinators who run sessions once a week and have set up things like IT gurus, so people can get support outside of those weekly sessions.”

In the wake of COVID-19, Ms Wilson said retirement accommodation providers had stepped up to the plate to ensure social distancing didn’t have to mean social isolation for older Australians.

“I think everybody has learnt a lot this year, in particular about how important it is for everyone to be able to use digital,” she said. “With all of the restrictions around COVID-19 and having to make sure older people are really safe, people have had to come a long way and make sure technology is available to people in retirement villages or people who are in aged care homes.

“I think they’ve come a long way, but I still think there is a lot to do to make sure the retirement villages and the staff in there also have the skills and confidence to support others to do that as well.”

In light of this, the Be Connected program offers Digital Devices grants of $2500 or $5000 to help fund organisations within the Be Connected Network to loan devices and data to socially isolated or disadvantaged learners over 50.

The grants program is managed by Good Things Foundation.

“People can apply for that grant to be able to purchase iPads or laptops to then loan out to people to stay connected,” Ms Wilson said. “That’s been one of the key things we’ve needed to do, and actually having devices and being able to afford them is one of the key things we need to keep working on across the country.”

For more information on the Be Connected program, call 1300 795 897 or visit

www.goodthingsfoundation.org.au

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