As online information and access to services become the norm, some older adults are having a hard time keeping up with the shift to digital platforms.
The transition is something Lac La Hache resident Brent Rutherford has taken note of over the past few years and one he describes as “troubling” for those with limited computer skills.
“About a year-and-a-half ago, when it came around to tax time, all of the companies that we have investments with started sending out emails saying if you want your T4 for income tax purposes, you have to go online to get it,” Rutherford recalled.
As someone who prefers paper copies of such documents, Rutherford, 79, said he was bothered by the lack of hard-copy options.
“I just started noticing all around me, things like banks, insurance companies, all kinds of government agencies, if you wanted to complain about something you have to put it in writing by way of an email,” he said. “To me, what it said was you effectively eliminate any kind of response from seniors.”
The shift to digital communication is something Lory Rochon, literacy outreach coordinator for Cariboo Chilcotin Partners for Literacy, has also taken stock of in recent years.
Rochon, who offers free digital literacy training for adults of any age, said using computers can be intimidating for older community members, especially when they don’t have the option to remain offline.
“You can’t opt for paper for a lot of things now, so many things have gone entirely online,” she said. “There is a lot of fear around computers and fear if they’re dealing with anything governmental, so those two things together become almost paralyzing for some people.”
Rochon works with adults – including Rutherford and his wife, Connie – to help navigate basic computer, tablet and smartphone skills.
She said the breadth of learning depends on who she is working with and what they want to achieve. Things like email functions, navigating Facebook and more recently, Zoom, are highly sought-after skills.
“One of the best skills they can learn is how to effectively use search engines,” Rochon said. “Almost every answer to the questions they have can be found there.”
Rochon also offers basic tech support when needed, as was recently the case for 100 Mile House senior Donna Schuler.
Schuler said she was “quite panicked” when her computer wasn’t working properly, and was concerned she would have to travel to Kamloops to the Apple Store to get it fixed. Luckily, Rochon was able to talk Schuler through the process of upgrading her computer’s hard drive memory.
“She is just so patient and knowledgeable, I don’t know where I’d be without her help,” Schuler said.
For Rutherford, having access to services like those offered by Rochon and CCPL has been “a lifesaver,” especially if you don’t have children or grandchildren in the community to lend a hand.
However, he maintains corporations and government agencies should take into consideration that not all older adults will want to utilize their online platforms.
“If they want feedback from the community, there has to be another way of doing it electronically and digitally,” he said. “A significant number of seniors won’t respond. They’ll walk away.”