Seniors signing up to become cyber savvy

By Scott Cressman

In a world of technology that is becoming increasingly digital, many Ottawa seniors are refusing to be left behind. These residents are using computers and the Internet to stay connected with their families and the world.

More and more classes have appeared across the city to teach basic computer skills to seniors. The computer training is in high demand and has a long waiting list at the Gracious Light Christian Centre on Somerset Street, says Ricky Yu, a board member at the centre. The centre has run its eight-week sessions for 18 months.

Seniors are happy to have the classes and learn new skills. “[The courses] are very well received and very welcome,” he says.

“I wish I had taken it up long ago, but I didn’t have the opportunity,” says Marjorie Blair, 94, who learned basic computer skills through classes at the Amica at Bearbrook retirement community, where she lives. More seniors should learn to use computers, she says. Once she tried it, the technology was easy to learn.

Computers offer seniors an excellent way to connect with the fast-paced world around them, Yu says. It also helps them keep up with younger generations.

Seniors like Blair use computers to keep in touch with family and friends. Her new skills let Blair e-mail her daughter in Florida.

“You can get a lot from a computer,” says Blair. “You can certainly learn a lot. I think it’s a wonderful invention.”

The city already offers computer training for seniors through the public library and the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. Gracious Light serves a niche market: Ottawa’s Chinese-Canadian community. Many people who sign up for classes know little English, Yu says, which creates a unique challenge when learning to navigate the Internet.

Another community group is preparing to join the trend. Starting in June, the Soloway Jewish Community Centre is planning a computer course for its Active Jewish Adults group for people 50 and older. Planning for the classes has just begun, says organizer George Kong.

The program will teach basic computer and Internet skills, but the centre does not have funding for more, Kong says. He plans to keep the class simple.

“We don’t want to reinvent the wheel,” he says.

Kong says he wants to find computer-savvy seniors to teach the skills to their peers. “Our goal is to use seniors to help seniors.”

Social programs often neglect seniors’ needs, so organizations need to work hard to serve that population. The Gracious Light Christian Centre receives some federal funding to buy computers, he adds, but also charges seniors a fee to attend classes.

“If there would be special support from the school board or the city, that would help a lot,” says Yu.