Helping Low-Income Seniors Build A Social Web Online : All Tech Considered More older Americans are going online, but many seniors don't have the resources, devices or skills to navigate the Web. One pilot program is giving tablets and training to seniors to help them combat isolation while staying safe online.
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Helping Low-Income Seniors Build A Social Web Online

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Helping Low-Income Seniors Build A Social Web Online

Helping Low-Income Seniors Build A Social Web Online

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Connecting to Community is the name of a pilot program intended to make older folks more comfortable online. It's a collaboration of several nonprofits. NPR's Art Silverman sat in on a few classes here in Washington.

SHEILA POOLE: Welcome, everyone back. Thank you so much for always being here and for being so prompt.

ART SILVERMAN, BYLINE: The tablet computers being used here are brand new. The people using them aren't. Some were around for decades before Bill Gates or Steve Jobs were even out of diapers. These senior citizens, all of them living on limited incomes, are starting to navigate their way into social media. They've been given free iPads with this goal in mind - get to know touch screen technology to combat loneliness.

But what comes naturally to a 20-year-old takes time for someone three times that age.

DORIS BAGLEY: 'Cause I was trying to take a picture and I end up taking a picture of myself. And I want to know how in the heck that happened.

RUBY LESTER: Using this, a face comes up and says: Wiki, Wiki, and it scares me and I just cut my computer off.

KENNETH BUTLER: I have, essentially, tremors. When I take pictures, I be shaking so much that I don't get a clear picture.

SILVERMAN: That's Kenneth Butler and before him, Ruby Lester and Doris Bagley. They come to classes a couple times a week to sort through these kinds of issues.

Another lesson taught at Connecting to Community is privacy. Instructor Sheila Poole.

POOLE: When we talk about your privacy and your settings on the social media, you need to know how to decide what you want people to be able to see, what you don't want people to be able to see, what you possibly don't even want to put on.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I'm not going to put anything on there that anyone else can't read. You know, nobody else...

SILVERMAN: It isn't so hard for these senior citizens here in Washington to learn touch screen technology. What's harder is learning the dos and don'ts of social networking.

POOLE: We show them the correct way and what your settings should be like for privacy. Teach them how to spot spam items and if you feel uncomfortable about something, then don't do it. We let them know that these are your brakes, just like in your car.

SILVERMAN: And soon, these novices to the digital world are cruising down the information highway, some at top speed.

POOLE: We're not seeing people afraid anymore. The fears are gone.

JAMES REESE: I even twit now.


REESE: I'm on Twitter.

SILVERMAN: That's James Reese. He's 69 years old. He's using his iPad to find some old, old, friends - even some childhood sweethearts. And he's tuning into online versions of his favorite blues performers, joining discussion groups about his glaucoma. He's the poster child for this pilot program.

REESE: It just fills a lot of void that was in my life, you know, that I used to do when I was young.

SILVERMAN: Fills the void. I think of technology as something for young people, but it sounds like its come along just at the right time for you at this time in your life.

REESE: But, you know, let me tell you, I would recommend it to every senior citizen who can. The computer...


REESE:'s a way of life now. I feel at my age - at 69, I feel great just knowing that I'm up on technology just like the young kids now. You know, so they don't have nothing on me.


REESE: I thank God for that.

POOLE: We, seasoned citizens of the District of Columbia, have taken steps to ensure that we keep up with growth by being a part of the technology craze...

SILVERMAN: Last Friday, in a ceremony at Shiloh Baptist Church, 55 senior citizens graduated from Connecting to Community, students like Thelma Pugh.

THELMA PUGH: We had a wonderful time, lots of fun. We learned a lot of websites that we did not know existed.

SILVERMAN: Even though the program is over now, the participants are expected to continue to keep in touch with each other online and in person.

PUGH: And we made connections with people we didn't know existed.

SILVERMAN: Art Silverman, NPR News.

PUGH: We had a great time. Thank you.


BLOCK: If you are a senior, we want to know something about your experience with technology. How has your relationship with tech changed as you've aged? Please, tell us in an email.


Go to And way at the bottom of the page, click on the little, tiny word: Contact - it's in gray on the right hand side. Again, tell us how your relationship with technology has changed as you've aged.

BLOCK: Put the words: Seniors and Tech in the subject line. Or you can tweet us @npralltech.

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