formats

For seniors there’s help getting digital access

Joan Hatem-Roy, Chief Executive Officer

Question: I know several people my age, 75, who use the internet regularly, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic began. I’ve tested a desktop computer at the public library with the assistance of staff, but I can’t afford a computer at home. Are there any programs to help someone like me?

Answer: Absolutely! Our agency is partnering with Fidelity House Human Services & Career Resources Corporation of Haverhill to offer the free Digital Access Program. Its purpose is to bridge the digital divide—the gap between those who can and cannot access the online world. It provides digital access, reduces social isolation, and enables people to tap a wide variety of online resources. We are deeply grateful to the NiSource Charitable Foundation Fund for Merrimack Valley and The George C. Wadleigh Foundation, Inc., the sources of funds for this program.

Participants receive a free tablet computer, a data package if needed, and in-person training about how using the computer and the internet. You don’t have to have any computer experience, and anyone, with any level of skills, is eligible for the program. If you already have a computer and just want additional training or if you’d like to learn more about online resources, we can help with that too. Residents of Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover—the communities affected by the 2018 Columbia Gas explosion—are especially encouraged to apply.

The tablets come fully equipped to connect with the internet, with relevant applications and step-by-step instructions. In addition, outreach workers from our agency will train you and your family members how to use them. We will customize this training to fit individuals and their needs. Training can cover everything from internet basics to the advanced features of Zoom. If participants need a data plan/wi-fi access, we will pay those fees for up to one year. If, after six months, you are using the tablet to engage successfully online, it becomes yours at no cost.

A Lawrence man in his 60s is one program success story: he has been enjoying his tablet for two months. His old computer had stopped working, and he had no other internet access. Now, with his tablet from the Digital Access Program, he can keep virtual medical appointments, connect with his grandchildren via Zoom, watch videos, and listen to music. It has brightened his life immeasurably.

The national experience of the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted a problem we already knew existed: a serious digital divide. Suddenly, as never before, life went online, for some people. As remote communication replaced activities at school and the office, connecting online became essential to the daily routines of millions.

But not everyone could adapt quite so easily. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 20 percent of older adults in Essex County lack broadband internet, the fastest and most efficient form of this service. Lawrence has particularly low levels of access. Across the Merrimack Valley, many families of young people with disabilities have inadequate internet access, a situation that worsened due to the pressures of the pandemic.

Older adults do thrive online. A recent survey from Statista found that 75 percent of Americans aged 65 and older consult the internet for information. So, the Digital Access Program is an ideal opportunity to ensure that more people have the equipment and training to benefit from using the internet.

For more information about our Digital Access Program, contact Nandi Munson at nmunson@esmv.org or 978-946-1380.

Are you struggling to care for an older adult or having difficulty locating resources? Our experienced staff is available to help. Visit us online at www.ESMV.org for more information. You can also call us at 800-892-0890 or email info@esmv.org. Joan Hatem-Roy is the Chief Executive Officer of Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley and North Shore.