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Impact Stories

United Way Healthy Aging connects B.C.’s seniors through the Digital Learning Pilot Project

United Way Healthy Aging launched the year-long Digital Learning Pilot Project that aims to increase digital literacy among seniors and older adults in British Columbia.

United Way Healthy Aging launched the year-long Digital Learning Pilot Project that aims to increase digital literacy among seniors and older adults in British Columbia.

When the pandemic forced everyone into social isolation, many turned to technology to stay connected. This is true for seniors as much as for anyone. Research shows that device ownership and usage among older adults has grown markedly and 65% of Canadians over 65 now own a smartphone and 83% of them use it daily. As the rate of seniors and older adults using technology increases, so does their need for education, training and other technology resources. The Digital Learning Pilot Project will address this gap.

This one-year pilot project is comprised of two funding streams: Active Aging Plus (AA+) and ITech Packages. Twenty-nine non-profit service agencies in B.C. have received AA+ grants to promote digital learning and develop virtual activities for older adults in their communities. The ITech packages are kits of five tablets from Best Buy Canada (along with technical support from Geek Squad) and data plans. United Way Healthy Aging has delivered ITech packages to 20 community agencies who will make tablets and accompanying services available to local seniors. Overall, this digital learning pilot represents over a $500,000 community investment.

“It’s important for people to maintain their independence and stay connected as they age, and digital technology has such an important role to play,” said Kahir Lalji, Provincial Director of United Way Healthy Aging. “Devices, data and the right skills are increasingly necessary for seniors, like all of us, to carry out the daily activities of our lives – things like banking online or ordering groceries. Today, we use apps to download and read library books or play card games, and technology is essential to staying socially connected. More and more community centres are developing virtual programs for seniors so they can join from home when they can’t get there in person.”

This pilot is unique because of its supported learning approach. Local service agencies from across B.C. will receive support and training from United Way Healthy Aging and HelpAge Canada, a national charitable organization supporting seniors in Canada and around the world. In turn, the local agencies – bolstered by training opportunities and collaborative learning sessions – will work directly with seniors in their community.

“Venturing into the digital world can be a daunting experience. It’s not easy to get started, and it’s often unaffordable – but in today’s world it’s a necessity,” said Nicole Perry, Director of National Programs for HelpAge Canada. “We are pleased to be able to share our digital literacy expertise in support of older adults who want to learn how to incorporate technology into their lives”.

The Digital Learning Pilot Project will deliver a scalable way to provide older adults with devices and data – along with the confidence and skills to use them. Active Aging Plus, in particular, will support the creation of virtual programming, helping agencies reach older adults province-wide. Progress will be evaluated during the pilot year, with the hope of developing it further. Bridging this digital divide is an important way for older adults to stay active, engaged, and connected.