URI partners in program to increase digital access for older adults

Engaging Generations Cyber Seniors program provides smart devices, training, internet access for seniors in the community

KINGSTON, R.I. — December 7, 2020 — The University of Rhode Island’s Engaging Generations Cyber Seniors program will provide smart devices and internet services to older adults in the community, and will work with community and senior centers to increase digital literacy in neighborhoods disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, thanks to a partnership among URI, the Rhode Island Office of Healthy Aging and Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island.

The digiAGE Initiative aims to connect more older adults to digital tools, giving them greater access to information, connecting them to others and contributing to the fight against the pandemic. The program will enhance efforts to equip residents living in areas hard hit by the crisis with smart devices, internet services, and related training to help them access online resources, work remotely, and virtually communicate with family and friends. URI students and faculty members will provide tech support and training. There is no cost to participants.

Visit https://cutt.ly/CyberSeniors for more information and to sign up for the program.

“Our team at URI is excited to expand the reach of this intergenerational program to include those hardest hit by the pandemic so that we can further enhance communication and problem-solving skills among our university students, many of whom will go on to work with older adults in their careers,” said Skye Leedahl, associate professor of human development & family science and leader of the Engaging Generations program. “For students, this service-learning opportunity promotes leadership skills, builds confidence and empowers them to work with the diverse older population.”

Technology is a fundamental aspect of life, yet more than 40 percent of adults older than 65 lack broadband access, and 25 percent of older adults are not online at all, according to the Pew Research Center. The numbers are even higher in lower-income areas. That equates to 30,000 older adults in the community who lack access to technology, according to an Office of Health Aging survey, leaving them vulnerable to greater isolation — especially during a pandemic — and a lack of information critical to their health and well-being.

“This pandemic has magnified the importance of technology to bridging physical distance and fostering social connection, but has also laid bare the digital inequities that persist across our state,” said Governor Gina M. Raimondo. “This partnership will allow us to expand access to digital tools while also helping us slow the spread of this virus.”

The digiAGE Collaborative is comprised of a growing list of industry, government, academic and community partners working together to bridge the digital divide for older adults through coordinated investments in smart devices, internet services, digital literacy training, and online content creation. As part of the program, a multilingual toolkit and train-the-trainer curriculum will be developed to promote peer-to-peer learning. Research will also be conducted to evaluate the benefits of the program on participants’ digital literacy and quality of life.

“Digital literacy and access are critical today,” said OHA Director Rosamaria Amoros Jones. “Too many older adults aren’t online, locking them out of the opportunities and support made possible by technology. We started the digiAGE Collaborative to bridge this digital divide. I am grateful to partners like URI who stepped in to lend their expertise. And I am especially proud of this program, which will bring younger and older generations together to learn and grow and support our multilingual learners across the state.”

With substantial investments in the Rhode Island Geriatric Education Center, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, and intergenerational programs like Cyber-Seniors, URI has made a concerted effort to expand access and opportunities to older adults in the community. Those efforts were validated when the Academy for Gerontology in Higher Education named URI an Age Friendly University, one of only 14 universities in the country to earn the distinction.

“We are buying into a commitment to make the University a more hospitable place for older people,” said Phillip Clark, professor and director of the gerontology program at URI. “It’s a great opportunity for URI to show leadership in the state and the country. We’re thinking big about aging in new ways.”

Funding for this program is made possible by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island Community Health Fund donor advised fund. For more information about the digiAGE Collaborative and Rhode Island’s efforts to promote digital equity, visit www.oha.ri.gov/digiAGE