By Eric Seiverling
You might think owning a cell phone is a basic commodity, but to 84-year-old Ruth Yee, owning a cell phone is a whole new world.
A world in which she’s not entirely comfortable.
“I’m a novice, so I’m afraid to hit a button,” Yee said. “Some people use it like their right-hand man, but I don’t even know how take photographs or text. I just answer the phone. I’m lucky at my age to even get a phone.”
But thanks to Community College of Allegheny County’s realization that seniors want to jump on the technology highway, Yee and other older adults in the Pittsburgh area can now join the online community and stay up-to-date with family, friends, and other areas of their lives.
The program provides health and wellness to seniors enrolled at senior citizen centers throughout Allegheny County. Instruction and classes are given at adult day care facilities, Kane Regional Centers, and various senior citizen centers.
The program is funded by Allegheny County, and is contracted to CCAC to administer the courses to seniors.
Yee brings her cell phone to the Penn Hills Senior Center, where she regularly meets with the college’s part-time adjunct instructors Remelle Adams and Edward Lampert.
“There’s a lot of functions I don’t know about,” Yee admitted. “Even the small things are tough. I want to learn to take a picture with my phone, but my main concern is seeing my missed calls.”
Yee isn’t alone.
According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, four out of 10 seniors now own smartphones, twice as many that was reported in 2013.
And according to the study, in the year 2000, 14% of seniors were Internet users. Today, 67% of adults over the age of 65 reported they go online.
— Pew Research Center (@pewresearch) May 30, 2017
Adams, who’s been with the program for over five years, said all of the seniors who come to her for instruction were given tech devices by family members who may have good intentions, but drop the ball when it comes to educating their elders on how to use the devices.
“We see everything from Apple products to Kindles,” Adams said. “We don’t know what device they’re going to bring to us. None of these seniors go out to buy devices for themselves. But, none of their kids want to teach them how to use it. Nobody has the patience and nobody lives around the corner from them. It’s frustrating for seniors.”
To make it easier for seniors, the classes are set up in a personalized, one-on-one setting, where each individual can ask questions specific to their own device.
“When you have a group of older people who have a skill set and knowledge that is so diverse, a traditional classroom setting wouldn’t be efficient or respectful to the rest of the group,” said Beth Ison, coordinator of Aging Programs for CCAC. “A workshop environment is the best way.”
Adams and Lampert said the most-asked questions revolve around basic device functions like text messaging, sending photos and accessing voice mail.
“I see the frustration seniors have with their devices,” Lampert said. “As soon as you explain it to them, a light bulb goes off. That’s my reward.”
And if the seniors at the Penn Hills Senior Center are any indication, the program is working.
“My daughter bought me this cell phone because she thinks I’m 20-years-old,” laughed Dorothy Paolucci, who is learning to save pictures she receives in text messages from her six grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren. “The old days were better, but I’m making sure I learn how to use all this stuff. I’ll be back next week.”
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