You can try technology devices for free
While more older adults than ever have regular internet access through a tablet or computer, there still remains a significant lag in internet usage based on older age and income level.
According to the “Report on Older Philadelphians and the Digital Divide,” conducted by Philadelphia Corporation for Aging in September 2020, 81% of Philadelphians 60-75 have a home internet connection. But only 59% of Philadelphians older than 75 are connected at home. When you factor in the poverty level, the connection rate among all Philadelphians 60-plus drops to only 52% – 10% lower than the rest of Pennsylvania.
Minority older adults and those who live alone also lag in internet connectivity. Only 58% of Philadelphians 60-plus who live alone have internet at home, while 83% of those who live with at least one other person are connected. The majority (82%) of white Philadelphians 60-plus have internet at home, but only 69% of Hispanic and 67% of Black older adults do.
Given that a tablet can cost several hundred dollars and a home internet service is upwards of $50 a month, cost seems to be a significant barrier to technology adoption for older adults on a fixed income.
Fortunately, there’s a program that can help older adults, people with disabilities and their caregivers to overcome the cost barrier to find the right equipment or assistive device for their needs. The TechOWL (Technology for Our Whole Lives) Program at Temple University allows older adults in Philadelphia and Southeastern Pennsylvania to borrow equipment – for free.
“Think of it like a ‘try before you buy’ option,” said Kim Singleton, director of assistive technology at Temple University’s Institute on Disabilities. “We have tons of stuff that older adults can borrow and try in their own homes, everything from very expensive eye-controlled computers to video magnifiers. Hopefully, after participants become familiar with a piece of equipment, they will see the benefits and decide to buy one for themselves. We can also help them find out a way to afford it, through discounts and other programs.”
TechOWL’s lending library offers an array of 310 technology items from tablet and laptop computers with mobile “hot spots” that provide a wireless internet connection to assistive devices.
Through CARES Act funding, TechOWL recently purchased hundreds more iPads and Chromebooks that are now ready and waiting to be borrowed. “So many programs have waiting lists due to the increased need from the pandemic, but we are able to serve,” Singleton said.
Devices are drop-shipped to the borrower and picked up by a TechOWL staff member at the end of the loan, so borrowers don’t even have to leave their homes to get started. The standard lending period is one month, which can be extended if the need allows.
For those who are unfamiliar with the setup and operation of new technology, TechOwl provides setup and support services throughout the loan. “TechOWL is staffed with a team of highly motivated, dedicated people. We have staff members who are blind and others who have learning disabilities, so they can help people with those challenges,” said Singleton. “For tablets, we can load any app on them that users request. If users don’t know where to start, we’ll ask them what they’re looking to do (with their tablets) and we will recommend apps to suit their interests. For Chromebooks, we can connect to devices remotely to help them navigate.”
TechOWL shows users how to use video-conferencing software, so they can participate in online programs and visit with their families. This helps older adults jump another hurdle to digital adoption: Overcoming the fear. “I’ve heard a lot of older people say, ‘I’ve gotten this far in my life without a computer; I don’t need one now,’” said Singleton. “When the desire to do something with technology becomes greater than your fear of technology, that’s when you get adoption.”
Singleton’s own mother didn’t start going online until she was 80. “When I showed her that she could meet with her doctor virtually on a telehealth visit and view her medical records and test results online, she was hooked.”