Friday, April 8, 2011

Getting Seniors on The World Wide Web - Part II

I spoke to Dr. Thomas Kamber, founder and executive director of the organization, Older Adults Technology Services (OATS). OATS teaches older adults and seniors how to use and be safe on the internet. It is the largest municipal technology program for senior citizens in the USA. Since the kick -off in 2004, OATS has trained over 5000 older adults and senior citizens at over 50 locations. Global Action on Aging thinks Thomas and OATS are doing something very important, helping older adults and seniors feel less alienated in today’s high-tech society.

It all began in 2003 when Thomas held a senior management position at nonprofit housing and technology organizations. He had always felt that none of the work he did made enough of a difference, until he met Pearl Scher. Thomas described Pearl Scher as a very active, wonderful and inspirational woman. Asked why she still at the age of 90 was working on so many projects, she answered, “I am working on my resume for heaven.” As a very active person Pearl realized quickly that if she wanted things to be done in her community she needed to learn how to use a computer. She asked if Thomas would teach her. Thomas accepted and discovered that the task was harder than he first had thought. After a while he and Pearl decided it would be a good idea for Pearl to continue learning by taking a community class. Surprisingly enough, Thomas discovered that computer and internet classes for seniors did not exist. This was when the idea for OATS was born.

Not only did Pearl help Thomas found OATS, her driving personality accomplished a lot of things for the seniors of New York City. One was to get a bus shelter on North End Avenue, so that the Hallmark’s seniors did not have to stand in the rain waiting for the bus. Pearl Scher passed away a couple of years ago.

I wanted to know what Thomas thinks is the biggest consequence for older adults and seniors not being able to use a computer and internet. He pointed out two interesting aspects. The first one is the feeling of alienation. Imagine watching a television show that mentions words and terms you don’t know. Words and items related to new technology are all over the place. Not having a clue what people are talking about can be very confusing and makes many seniors feel like aliens in their own society. Another important consequence Thomas mentioned was the financial aspect. Regarding older seniors and those who are housebound, online shopping can save a lot of money and time. For the younger seniors new technology is critical in almost any work environment. Another problem is that many time older adults and seniors feel a bit embarrassed about not knowing much about computers and internet, which makes them hesitate to ask for help. This brings me to another great website OATS created, Senior Planet.

Senior Planet was developed by OATS in 2006, as a grassroots digital community project. It serves as a community for older adults on the internet. The website focuses on resource exchange, an event calendar and senior blogs. The resource exchange exists for senior citizens to deal with their everyday problems; it helps seniors find information about different services, educational programs and senior-friendly entertainment. The event calendar informs readers about discounts, special events, and social happenings for older adults as well as senior blogs to help find like-minded people to discuss different topics and issues.

Right now the future looks bright for Thomas and OATS. The National Broadband Plan released by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) features OATS and Senior Planet as a model program promoting broadband adoption and inclusion by senior citizens. OATS just got a donation from the Federal Department of Commerce and NYC’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications to open a support technology center for seniors later this year in New York City. OATS also has an inter-generational project called Hyper Linking the Generations; high school students teach older adults and seniors gain computer skills. This helps participants to overcome age stereotypes and communication between the generations. Thomas told me he always wanted to do something that would have a big impact on people’s lives. I think he has accomplished this.

The projects mentioned above are just a few things OATS is doing for our community. To find out more please go and visit their website for more information.

Thomas Kamber

Please have a look at:

No comments:

Post a Comment