Margaret Anne Lacasse is a garden pro, but like many other seniors, the 81-year-old was too intimidated to delve into tech.
The Gatineau, Que. Resident said her idea of the technology was a typewriter or adding machine.
“I have never, ever used any type of technology,” said Lacasse. “Already.
“You feel like you don’t belong to this generation.”
This changed after Lacasse found out Connected Canadians – a non-profit group based in Ottawa, Ontario.
Connected Canadians matches volunteers with seniors to teach them how to set up and navigate on their iPads and cellphones.
Founders Emily Jones Joanisse and Tas Damen started the group before the pandemic after noticing an urgent need for technical support for the elderly.
The pandemic has amplified this need.
Elderly mother and daughter maintain a critical connection to technology
“Our goal is to provide free digital support to all seniors in Canada,” said Damen. She stressed that Connected Canadians wants this to happen by 2030.
“We believe this is a basic human need and should be accessible to all seniors in Canada.
Jones Joanisse said the 90-year-old learned to use technology through the program. One of their members was 101 years old.
“If they want to learn, we’re here to help them,” Jones Joanisse said.
“People in this world need connection.”
Jones Joanisse knew the program was making a difference after a 94-year-old woman learned to use a tablet, even though she had never used a computer before.
“We showed him a whole new world, literally. She was then able to connect with her family in Italy and in all the different places.
“The barrier, most of the time, is a psychological barrier,” Jones Joanisse said. “It’s not that they’re not smart enough… they’re thinking, ‘Maybe I can’t do this because I’m too old.'”
Grandparents learn new skills in their golden years after pandemic
When Connected Canadians launched in 2018, volunteer tech mentors were moving to retirement homes and coffee shops, allowing seniors to ask questions face to face.
During the pandemic, training went virtual or over the phone.
Lacasse said her volunteer spoke to her on her landline and walked her step-by-step on how to set up an Amazon Echo device.
“It’s so easy to talk to them and they’re extremely helpful,” Lacasse said. “It’s like a friend on the phone – very, very nice.
“They don’t seem to mind repeating things multiple times.”
Lacasse said her daily routine now involved a conversation with Alexa – asking her for the weather, daily news and playing classical music while she rang her flowers.
“Not in a million years did I think I would be talking to a computer!”
Amazon Canada partnered with Connected Canadians and donated 504 Echo Show devices to the program.
Damen said hands-free devices are great for older people.
“We can really provide devices for the elderly who have trouble typing because voice control is such a big thing,” Damen said.
“Simple things like adding reminders or asking if a drugstore down the road is open is a really big win.”
Damen spoke of an elderly person in the program who had paralysis on one side of the body. She was isolated and was unable to attend events during the pandemic.
After learning to use digital devices, this woman was able to take language courses in her community.
“I remember seeing her and her face light up and she said, ‘For five months I don’t do anything and now I can see my friends. “”
Damen herself has also gained an invaluable connection. She had mentored a blind senior who was a retired engineer.
She taught him how to navigate his Echo to stream audiobooks. He gave him advice in the field of engineering.
It is this collaboration that attracted more than 70 volunteer mentors to the program.
Many are new immigrants and take the experience to practice their English. They give their free time after work or some companies sponsor employees and allow them to provide technical advice during their working day.
Jones Joanisse pointed out that digital skills not only allow older people to interact with their grandchildren, but they do so much more.
“It also allows them to have a voice in today’s digital society and to be able to express themselves and share the knowledge they have acquired during their lifetime.
Lacasse has knowledge to share. Her son, Gary Lacasse, said: “Go into the garden with her and a technician would be lost.
“She loves Alexa. She has a new appreciation for technology.
This gave Lacasse the courage to find out more. She plans to attack her computer afterwards.
For the other seniors who are afraid of technology, Lacasse said they are going astray.
“Technology is the way of the future, like it or not.
Connected Canadians can be reached toll-free at 1-877-304-5813.
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