“Gone are the days of one needing to ‘travel’ to gain access to the internet,” says Stephen Minor, CTN’s senior program manager. “Equal access means bringing the internet directly to the user so that they are able to maintain a constant connection to their community, loved ones, and essential services.”
A little over a year ago, Community Tech Network had to change our entire organizational model in response to the coronavirus crisis. “Due to the indefinite closures of local senior centers and technology labs, older adults and seniors were left without access to the internet and all of the resources it contains,” Stephen reflects. “Without access or support in accessing the internet, many seniors were disconnected from their community, family, and healthcare providers in the blink of an eye.”
The digital divide has remained a problem since the internet’s early stages, but the pandemic has exemplified its severity and impact on everyday life. In response, CTN quickly pivoted our work and began to train older adult learners remotely — a dream that co-founder Kami Griffiths has had for years. This new program, dubbed Home Connect, launched in April of 2020. From years of experience in training older adults how to use the internet, we knew that just providing internet-capable devices wouldn’t be enough. Ensuring that seniors have reliable access to the internet in the safety of their homes and the skills to access its resources is paramount.
A year later, the program continues to adapt and transform to best fit the needs of our community. Here’s what Stephen has to say of the program’s evolution: “In the beginning, the Home Connect program was only able to support four languages — English, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, and Cantonese. One year in, the Home Connect program also supports Russian- and Tagalog-speaking senior learners. Additionally, to ensure this program is being distributed equitably throughout San Francisco, the Home Connect program has expanded its services to seniors hailing from over 45 organizations, senior centers, and technology labs. As the Home Connect program continues to expand to diverse populations and communities, we pride ourselves on hiring staff and onboarding volunteers to reflect the communities we serve.”
Before joining the Home Connect program, 31 percent of its participants lacked any sort of internet access at home. Only 54 percent used the internet regularly. In a survey conducted six months after participants completed the program, their regular usage of the internet has increased to 98 percent. Similarly, overall levels of loneliness (based on the UCLA loneliness scale) have decreased by 19 percent. About 90 percent of Home Connect learners are over the age of 65 — with an average age of 73. Just over 40 percent of these learners speak and complete their training in either Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Russian, or Tagalog.
CTN is proud of the sustained impact we’ve had this year through the Home Connect program. While we are excited to eventually return to some form of in-person instruction, the future of the pandemic remains uncertain. As coronavirus restrictions ease up and circumstances change, Home Connect will continue to help those unable to attend our traditional community-based programming due to personal mobility challenges, underlying health issues, or lack of transportation to the training sites.
Want to join us in transforming lives through digital literacy? Consider donating to support the success and evolution of our Home Connect program in San Francisco and beyond.