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ArlingtonInitiative works to get more seniors connected online

Initiative works to get more seniors connected online

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Now more than ever, the Internet is central to our everyday lives. We depend on it to find jobs, learn and do homework, stay entertained, shop and access health information.

Perhaps most importantly, we rely on the technology to stay connected with family and friends.

For some people, including senior citizens, understanding how to use a computer and navigate the Internet can be overwhelming. According to a recent study published by the International Telecommunications Union, less than half of the world’s population over 60 years old are online – and engagement declines significantly as age increases.

Rosa Carrasquillo, a 74-year-old native of Peru who now lives in Arlington, was one of those seniors who had no experience using a computer or navigating the Internet. She has lived and worked, mainly in the hotel industry, in the U.S. for many years, but never familiarized herself with the technology. However, she knew having digital skills would be important, especially if she was to return to school to learn English.

Through the Alliance for Arlington Senior Programs (AASP) – a nonprofit that helps the senior population of Arlington maintain an active and healthy lifestyle – Carrasquillo was invited to be a part of the Internet Essentials Partnership Program, an agreement between AASP and Comcast. The program provides up to 12 months of high-speed Internet service at home, plus a free tablet and digital-skills training to low-income seniors who qualify.

“Somebody said, ‘Do you want to learn about computers? It is necessary to know the basics, you know.’ So, I said OK, because I have never touched a computer in my life in this country. I don’t know anything about that. I didn’t know where to start,” said Carrasquillo.

“Being online opens up limitless access to connect with the world,” said Amanda Gimble, director of Aging Connected, which is part of Older Adults Technology Services (OATS), a Comcast community partner. “The pandemic demanded that essential services become more accessible online, from ordering groceries to navigating health care, making connectivity an absolute necessity. So, it’s alarming that nearly 22 million older Americans age 65+ lack wireline broadband access at home.”

OATS is working to bridge the digital divide. “Through introductory Senior Planet classes, for example, older adults who are new to the Internet learn to harness the power of technology to thrive online,” Gimble said.

On the first day of training, Carrasquillo had to ask the instructor, AASP board member Linda Sholl, to repeat the steps.

“Linda was very patient with me. I said ‘Linda, I will never learn this. This is not for me.’ She said, ‘No, Rosa. You can do this.’ I learned something and I am very happy,” Carrasquillo said.

Carrasquillo learned how to search the Internet for photos of animals in Africa. She also gained the skills to video chat with a friend and watch movies online.

“Our partnership with Comcast Internet Essentials is one of the most important and helpful elements in our efforts to help Arlington seniors enjoy better and more productive use of the internet,” said AASP chairman Doug Frost. “Arlington County has taken laudable steps to address digital inequities that challenge the uneducated, the poor and the minority communities. This focus on our senior community is very much needed and can only result in a better Arlington for all.”

Comcast also is participating in the federal government’s Emergency Broadband Benefit program, a temporary discount program available on all tiers of Xfinity Internet service, including Internet Essentials. New and existing customers can receive up to a $50-per-month credit on their Internet.

This article was provided by Comcast in recognition of National Digital Inclusion Week, which ran Oct. 4-8.

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