Bringing Digital Independence & Empowerment to Senior Citizens
On May 11, across the country we mark ‘National Technology Day’ to celebrate the incredible achievements being made in the field of science and technology in India. One of the areas where the country is progressing in leaps and bounds and making the world sit up and take notice is digital technology. The digital wave is radically changing the way in which the society connects as a community, the way it consumes information, entertainment and the way it accesses key services. During the COVID-19 pandemic, India’s vaccination achievements through its COWIN app became a model for other countries. The digital and technology platforms also rose in prominence and scale to bridge the in-person mode to enable continuity and reach in many areas including social connections (video conference, new applications), health and care (including home care, remote care) and engagement (learning and connecting platforms).
But there has been one demographic group that has been struggling to keep up with these rapid and constant changes – our elders. It is not that the eagerness to join the digital highway is missing or that the desire to learn is lacking. And many have indeed have learnt and are reaping the benefit. With the pace of technological development only set to accelerate, it is imperative for us to reflect on how we can work together to bridge the ‘digital divide’ for our senior citizens, rather than allow it to become a self-fulfilling prophecy where we as a society write off our seniors as simply being ‘outdated’. At a societal level there are several initiatives that we can take to create an elder-friendly digital environment. There are five initiatives that can be taken up
- Digital literacy & safety for elders needs to be taken up at much bigger scale. Even as smartphone penetration increases, helping elders learn the basics would help build ability and confidence. For this, it would be important to develop a custom pedagogy/curriculum for elders incorporating the right mode and pace for better learning. Along with literacy, strong emphasis is also required on digital safety i.e., navigating the digital highway carefully. Elders are particularly vulnerable to online fraud/cybercrime and often risk losing their life earnings to scamsters. All have a role – government-led programs focused on elders, corporates under CSR initiatives, and technology companies, national institutions and banks potentially taking a lead and proactive role in conducting such awareness campaigns and workshops for elders. HelpAge India, with support from Google, has launched a significant initiative to empower 50,000 elders across the country with digital safety knowledge.
- Have an elder-inclusive and tech inclusive approach for digital programmes and policies. For example, currently the eligible age group for PMGDISHA (Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyaan) is 14-60 years. For senior citizens in rural areas to be able to benefit from this programme, we need to include the 60+ year age group. HelpAge India has written to Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology to make this change. The excellent network of Common Service Centres (CSC) developed by the government in rural areas is well placed to include elders in their training, along with partnership of community organisations/NGOs. This is particularly important for enabling access to government schemes/programs (e.g., pension, PMJAY) and accessing important information (e.g., digitised land records; agriculture best practices).
- Create digital bridges (ecosystems/community platforms) for enabling technology access and adoption: Adoption rates of technology by elders, both in rural and urban areas, differs from the average for population and considerably varies from the younger population. There are several factors for this (device penetration, use, literacy, social aspects etc.). As an approach, it would be important for society to build the “bridges” to address the gaps and accelerate adoption. For example, job/volunteering connecting platforms for seniors; learning platforms for elders; multi activity community-based centres that become hubs for learning and access. In our work with communities in urban and rural areas, we have seen such bridges accelerate the uptake of technology.
- Incentivise investments in and funding for elder-tech/age-tech with a focus on helping disadvantaged elders: Even as elders are trying to catch up on technology, the socio-economic-health situation of a large segment elders is very challenging – 50% of elders are poor; 60% plus face one or more chronic diseases; 40% face functional disabilities affecting day to day life; and about 20% are living alone or with spouse. Technology can play a transformative role if the efforts and investments are encouraged and incentivised to solve problems of the disadvantaged and needy, and ensure affordable and relevant solutions reach them
- Increase research on digital technology and the elderly and gather age-disaggregated data on existing policies and programmes: There is glaring lack of data and research covering the senior population. Most surveys and studies tend to stop at age 60. The 140 million elder population (10% of total and rising rapidly) is also diverse, and research and data collection should have a differentiated approach for the 60-70 age group, 70-80 and 80 plus, rather than taking a 60 plus all as one.
The starting point, however, of any social change must be from within our own homes. We need to ask ourselves if we as individuals are doing enough to make our own senior family members feel comfortable enough to ask us for any support that they need while navigating the digital world. Are we being too impatient? Are we being dismissive? Is our lack of empathy and attention causing them to retreat and give up on themselves when it comes to understanding and exploring digital technology? Even a little bit of effort on our part will make a very big difference to their digital confidence. Let us not forget these are the very people who worked hard to get us the best possible education and spent sleepless nights helping us achieve our goals.
Together, with the right intent and effort, we can lead the way in creating not just an elder-inclusive Digital India but also an elder-friendly digital world.
This article has been written by:
CEO, HelpAge India