Broadband support for seniors - keeping everyone in touch

The online world is divided into two types of people. There are digital natives – those who grew up watching cartoons on an iPad and had an email account before they’d opened a bank account. And then there’s the rest of us: a.k.a. the digital immigrants.

Of course, since you’re reading this online, you already understand the basics of how the internet works. But if, like us, the pinnacle of technology in your early years amounted to portable turntables, Atari joysticks and vibrating belt machines, chances are that certain aspects of the online world leave you a little baffled or, at the very least, ambivalent. And you’re not alone. Technology has developed as such a dizzying pace in our lifetime that even committed technophiles struggle to keep up.

Internet for all
Yet, in today’s hyper-connected world, when so many services and everyday interactions are being carried out online, those who don’t participate risk being left behind. Which is why the Australian Government’s ongoing support for the Broadband For Seniors initiative is such welcome news. Under a new $1.3 million funding pledge announced by Minister for Social Services Scott Morrison, roughly 97,000 senior Australians will continue to receive free access to computers and internet training.

The aim is to ensure that no one is left behind, regardless of age, economic status or technological ability. When announcing the grant last month, Mr Morrison said, “Everyone should have the opportunity to build confidence and skill using computers and the internet. This funding will enable older Australians to continue to have free access to computers, the internet and basic training to help them connect with their families and community.”

Watch out for your local kiosk
The grant will provide funding for the Broadband for Seniors Kiosks program. Around 2000 of these facilities are dotted across Australia – you’ll find them in local libraries, community centres, care homes and RSL clubs. The service is entirely free of charge. To locate a kiosk near you, call the Broadband for Seniors hotline on 1300 795 897, or log on to BF Seniors. The kiosks are available to anyone aged 50 years or over, and are manned by volunteer tutors who teach the basics of how to send emails, social media and online security. Adult Learning Australia is overseeing the program in partnership with the Australian Seniors Computer Clubs Association – the national peak body for seniors and technology – and the University of the Third Age Online, an online learning resource for older students. The kiosks and the free tuition will be available until at least 2017.

Social media keeps you in touch
So what are the benefits of learning all these IT skills? For many, the question may be: why bother now? Well, for anyone who has a family – either children or grandchildren – the most obvious answer is to stay in touch. We don’t all have the luxury of living close by, so new technologies like Skype and Face Time – the “videophones” of old science fiction movies – are next best thing to being in the same room as you talk. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are also great for staying in touch. See our tips on how to use social media here. Since pretty much everyone under 30 now use social media as their primary mode of communication, the phrase: “If you can’t beat them, join them” has never seemed so apt.

How to make your life easier
We should also learn these skills purely for ourselves, as they can enhance life in unexpected ways. Can’t get to the shops this week? Order your groceries online. Want to get tickets for a highly popular theatre show? Join a mailing list to beat the queues when they go on sale. There are many benefits to be gained by dipping a toe in the online world, particularly if you’re less mobile than you used to be. Plus, adding new strings to your bow is a proven way of keeping the mind active. But perhaps the best thing about the internet is the way that it brings people together. Whatever your interest, however niche, you will be guaranteed to find people out there who will share your enthusiasm and want to talk to you about it. So even if no one in your social sphere appreciates your 100-year-old Armenian stamp collection, you can guarantee that someone is out there who will be thrilled by it.

For those who aren’t reading this, we need to all get the message out there that help is available. It’s likely that we all know someone who has no online access and, perhaps, lives a more isolated life as a result. This may be because they can’t afford a computer or internet connection, so by introducing them to the Broadband for Seniors kiosk scheme, you might just help them open up new possibilities. Let's embrace any technology that helps us stay connected.

For more information visit:

Adult Learning Australia 

Australian Seniors Clubs Computer Association 

University of the Third Age Online 

How do you use the Internet to stay in touch with people you love? Join our conversation below…