By Sarah Corday

When Grace Salkowski was born in 1931, no one had a television in their home. The word ‘computer’ was rare, if in use at all, and Mark Zuckerberg wouldn’t be born for another 53 years.

Yet today, at 86 years old, what is the primary way Grace keeps in contact with her family and network of grandchildren? Facebook.

In fact the last time I talked to Grace, who happens to be my grandmother, she concluded our phone call by saying. “Keep in touch – send me an email.”

My grandmother is not unique in her fondness of Internet technology, especially as of recent times.

For example, in early 2000, only 14% of seniors were Internet users. But today, 67% of adults ages 65 and older say they go online, according to the Pew Research Center.

Although seniors tend to have lower rates of technology adoption than the general public, the group as a whole is more digitally connected than ever.

In fact, some groups of seniors – typically those who are younger, affluent and more highly educated – report owning and using various technologies at rates similar to adults under the age of 65.

But this statistic is limited. According to the same site, there remains a notable digital divide between younger and older Americans. It states, “Seniors who are older, less affluent, or with lower levels of education continue to have a distant relationship with digital technology.”

Thankfully, resources abound for those 65 and older. Here are a few organizations aiming to bridge the digital divide among seniors.

SeniorNet

SeniorNet is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization of computer-using adults, age 50 and older. Since its founding in 1986, the organization has benefited millions of seniors. It has done so by means of Learning Centers – which have been set up in locations all over the world (as close as Peoria, IL, and as far away as Malaysia). These centers feature an extensive curriculum and instructional materials that break down Internet language into easy, practical guidelines. SeniorNet also offers discounts on computer-related products and services.

SeniorNet’s mission is to provide older, underserved adults education and access to computer technologies both to enhance and empower their lives.

DigiSeniors

Sponsored in part by Microsoft, DigiSeniors, which is affiliated with the SmartChicago Collaborative, is devoted to improving lives in Chicago by means of technology. Its curriculum focuses on aiding seniors to adapt and become comfortable using the Internet. Core aspects of the curriculum include interactive portions, large text, and high contrast backgrounds. Instruction is given at a slow pace, and in a friendly environment. Additionally, the class curriculum is free and available for use by anyone interested in teaching their own sessions.

It’s Never 2 Late – iN2L

Founded in 1999, iN2L is dedicated to helping older adults realize the full benefits of today’s technology. iN2L integrates hardware, software, and media to allow virtually any person with an interest in using a computer to do so pleasurably and without frustration. 

Seniors can exercise and sharpen their social, cognitive, and physical skills by using iN2l’s programs, which are specially designed with large fonts and touchscreen capabilities. What makes this organization especially impressive? They’ve designed software that is used in therapy sessions to combat dementia and cognitive decline.

Internet Essentials

A product of Comcast, Internet Essentials is a web-based platform for seniors and others who are interested in technology basics. By visiting the Learning Center tab on the Internet Essentials  home page, seniors are directed to a video portal with titles such as “How to set up and use email,” or warnings like “Don’t get scammed on the Internet.”

Operating under the belief that everyone should have equal access to having the Internet at home, Internet Essentials was formed in 2011 with the goal of bridging the digital divide. Since its inception it has helped to connect more than 4 million people to the Internet at home.

Bridging the Divide

Thanks to organizations such as these, seniors now have resources and tools available to them like never before. The more connected they are, the more they are empowered they become, and the more likely they are to continue leading independent lives.

Grace Salkowski is a perfect example. Today, just a few years shy of 90, her memory is sharp, and she still lives on her own.

In fact, I’m sure she’d love reading this article. I’ll have to email her the link.