Digital Inclusion for Seniors and Retirees

nethui NZ with tui

The theme for NetHui 2019 is safety, inclusion and wellbeing on the open Internet. Nethui is not a conference but a huge community meeting where people share ideas and listen and brainstorm. Check out the NetHui 2019 website to get the flavour of this famous annual gathering.

Strange to say, despite 20 years of involvement in things internet. I have never been to a NetHui yet. Although I have been eager, it just hasn’t happened… until this year.

This year it’s to be held at Te Papa in Wellington on 3–4 October. With Francesca Holibar, Director of TechSeniors in Auckland, I have been asked to facilitate a one-hour discussion on Digital inclusion for seniors and retirees. I’m keen to do this and have already begun thinking and researching.

New Zealand’s Digital Inclusion Blueprint expands a previous concept of a digital divide:

For the purposes of the Blueprint, being digitally included means having convenient access to, and the ability to confidently use, the internet through devices such as computers, smartphones and tablets. This focus reflects the way that most people currently interact with the digital world, and that more and more services and day-to-day activities are going online.

The Blueprint lists 4 elements which are all needed for a person to be digitally included: motivation, access, skills, and trust. The Internet today provides so many services, entertainment and communication benefits that it’s a real disadvantage to be left out of the loop.

Old people and the internet: what’s happening?

It’s a fact that “seniors” are among the vulnerable groups who are less engaged online.

We’re not short of local and national initiatives, such as SeniorNet classes in at least 50 locations, the SteppingUp classes at public libraries, and the Digital Seniors pilot programme in the Wairarapa, dedicated to improving seniors’ digital inclusion.

Also, local government bodies and libraries have their own policies for healthy ageing or positive ageing. These may include using the Internet, or helping older people to use it with confidence. 

Three types of problems that need tackling

  1. What problems do older people have with technology? How can we help?
  2. What technology needs fixing for everyone, but especially for older people? (What looks like personal incompetence is very often poor design. Old people just let you know about it!)
  3. What other problems do some older people have that digital inclusion could alleviate? (I’m thinking of loneliness, but there must be others.) And how?

Share your own brilliant ideas 

Many of you reading this blog are old yourself, some even older than I am at 79. We have a double advantage: we do use the internet (a lot), we have access and skills and motivation. We know the pitfalls and the benefits.

We can see the problems and articulate them. Who but we should be figuring out solutions to the problems of digital inclusion for seniors and retirees?

Please tell us about exciting developments in your own country that we can learn from. And if you’re in New Zealand, tell us what’s happening in your area! 

I can’t wait to hear from you. Thank you in advance.

Possible ways to tempt reluctant seniors into the digital world

  1. John Popham asks: Is Local Radio the Route to Digital Inclusion?
  2. Could blogging be a route to digital inclusion of seniors?
  3. Singapore’s Festival of Digital Inclusion

15 thoughts on “Digital Inclusion for Seniors and Retirees

  1. myrak says:

    The tool ( Phone, Ipad, desktop computer, laptop) you are using to access the internet needs to be updated at least every 5 years in my view….otherwise it becomes too clunky and slow and outdated and not user friendly. Learning is easier on a good tool.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Quite true. There’s no escaping that.

  2. Cathy Cade says:

    In the past I’ve found the internet a useful means of interacting with and actually meeting others (although with caveats) as well as a timewaster. Computing, online resources and user support were part of my job as a university library manager, so I had a fair understanding of the medium to take into retirement.
    A friend who died recently wanted nothing to do with the internet and wouldn’t even text on her ’emergency’ mobile phone. Partly this was because she felt it too confusing for her muddled brain (which was, it’s true, becoming more muddled, but her conviction was based more on an education hampered by dyslexia in an age where it wasn’t recognised).
    I argued that email and Skype would help her stay in touch with her far-flung family, but following through on the idea threw up other considerations, not least the cost . The monthly cost of a broadband subscription horrified her, and the cost of data download on a tablet or mobile seemed no better. This lady counted every penny – no longer strictly necessary, but the hard-learned habit of a lifetime.
    While regular trips to use internet in the local library (no longer open every day in our UK village) would have got her online as well as offering her more direct human contact, she was now finding it difficult to walk far and only went out when I took her shopping or to U3A meetings.
    She was stubborn and I doubt I could have convinced her to broach the demon internet anyway, but the cost sealed her refusal.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      So many lessons to learn from this story. You did your best to motivate and help her. Mobility and especially cost were the killers. The proportion and number of people who have never used the internet for work or transactions or communication must, on the other hand, surely be shrinking year by year—?

  3. rhinophile says:

    There’s a little reminder that I often recite – in my head that is – that seems to relate to this story about your friend: Argue for your limitations and they are yours.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:


  4. Gallivanta says:

    I wonder if it would help to have classes where technicians help seniors pull apart computers ( and laptops) and so the machine itself is demystified. I was fascinated to watch a technician open my laptop and show me which bits were causing my problems.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      What a fascinating idea. This makes the computer seem more loke something real and comprehensible.

  5. I will enjoy reading your review of this conference. Do include technophobia for seniors. It’s a biggy–that they think they can’t so can’t. I’m 68… I run into technophobia all the time with friends/students.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      It’s not until October but will be in my mind. Technophobia is real, and has been with us from the start. But time has gone by and most people use the internet despite claiming to be hopeless with technology. Interesting

  6. Ally Bean says:

    The biggest revelation I had about using computers is they are all as quirky as people. Once I realized that each machine needs its own kind of finessing, I began to like them more. And resent them less.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Your approach makes sense. Making this hard, closed metal object more human and less scary. I’ll take note…

  7. Rachel, your point about the non users pool shrinking over time is valid. However, there are, and always will be, some who do not understand the basics of menu driven electronics, even television remote controls. Modern methods of access have made it easier and easier to use systems without the need for expertise, or understanding, but there still exists the phobia of “I don’t understand!”
    I believe the best method of learning for those fearful of having a go is to have very young children mix with, and teach them!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Brilliant. You’re so right. Less intimidating by far. I’m loving these replies.

  8. Elizabeth says:

    No helpful ideas on this end, but I suggest they hire children to teach. They seem to master every new technology!

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