When it comes to technology, older adults are pioneers — yet they are often also the most overlooked, particularly in terms of accessible resources. They experienced emerging technologies at a critical moment, confronting opportunities and challenges with profound repercussions.
At no time has this been more apparent than during the ongoing pandemic, when the ability to connect and communicate with loved ones, access healthcare, or even simply go about daily life has become often entirely reliant on technology.
But what if you can’t access that technology? Or have never had an opportunity to learn how a newer device works? And what if the internet simply isn’t affordable?
The Enterprise Center has always worked with older adults through Tech Goes Home classes — often, a grandparent and their grandchild would go through school-based classes together or older neighbors would join a community class at a local community center or church. But, when the United Way launched a COVID task force focused on the needs of older adults, our team had the opportunity to work alongside experts at the Southeast Tennessee Area Agency on Aging and Disability (SETAAAD, or, affectionately, “Triple-A D”) — and a new partnership was born.
Since December 2020, Tech Goes Home has been working across SETAAAD’s 10-county footprint to serve older adults in our community, partnering with local leaders — from the directors of local seniors centers to UT Extension Agents to librarians to pastors to the Director of UTC’s Center for Community and Career Education — to host our signature 15-hour Tech Goes Home classes, specifically tailored for what participating seniors wanted and needed to learn.
“I’m never going to learn anything,” one participant predicted to a trainer at the beginning of the class, “I’ll take the computer home, and it will just be a piece of furniture.”
After the class began, that same dejected participant stopped by the trainer’s office to chat about a recipe he had cooked and enjoyed the night before — which he had looked up using his computer.
In another class, a gentleman having challenges with his smartphone mentioned that he wanted to learn how to use Zoom. At the end of the program, as attendees were sharing some of their success stories, he burst into tears: His grandson is in the military, and he hadn’t seen his face in the six months before Tech Goes Home taught him to use Zoom.
In addition to 15 hours of digital skills training, Tech Goes Home has been able to provide every participant with a device. And, using low-cost mobile hotspots and the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit and Affordable Connectivity Program, has also ensured that participants stay connected at home, long after their classes end.
With graduates as mature as 93, this partnership continues to show that the biggest barriers to technology are access, affordability and opportunity — never the capacity of our neighbors, whatever their age, to learn and pursue their passions.
These pilot classes were initially launched with a goal and funds to reach 100 seniors. To date, 221 older adults have participated in these regional Tech Goes Home classes, at 12 sites across southeast Tennessee. They have beens so popular, in fact, that every single county has had a waitlist for participants at some point over the last year.
Interested in hearing from past participants & finding out more?
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