Older people and the digital world – What is New Zealand doing?

Judith Davey 19/11/2021

In Aotearoa/New Zealand very little had been written on older people and their digital inclusion until recently. The Department of Internal Affairs published The Digital Inclusion Blueprint, Te Mahere mō te Whakaurunga Matihiko and Evaluating digital inclusion initiatives: Examples of good practices, in 2019 with hardly any reference to older people. However, among the initiatives on older people’s issues, the Wellbeing Budget (2019) included funding of $600,000 to provide computer training and skills. This acknowledged the extent of digital exclusion experienced by many older people and the increasing need to improve their ability to participate in communication and services offered by the internet, especially in the context of the COVID 19 pandemic.

The Office for Seniors subsequently gave a contract to the Digital Inclusion Alliance Aotearoa (DIAA) to develop a digital literacy programme for seniors. This led to Better Digital Futures for Seniors, based on their Stepping Up programme, which appeared in June 2020. Research by Victoria University of Wellington described the different levels of engagement among older people from those who are highly skilled and engaged to those who see no reason to become digitally involved.  Four pathways were developed within the Better Digital Futures programme, each containing four 2-hour modules, to target groups of older people at different stages of their digital journeys:

  1. Introductory – reasons to go online, such as communicating with family, becoming less dependent on others, discovering suitable digital devices, and pursuing hobbies.
  2. Digital Essentials – computer and online essentials as well as options for connecting to the internet.
  3. Digital Engagement – for seniors who want to expand their online skills, focus on online shopping and banking as well as managing photos and solving common problems.
  4. Digital Safety – addresses concerns about protecting privacy and keeping safe online.

Older people, aged 65 plus, are able to choose one of these pathways and be referred to groups throughout the country, in local libraries, community centres, retirement homes, marae, and other convenient locations. Participants complete a pre-and post-training survey to help measure their digital skills and confidence.

Emphasising the importance of digital literacy for older people, Laurence Zwimpfer, writing in Digital Inclusion in June 2019 suggested that it should figure among the Key Action Area in the new strategy for older New Zealanders, Better Later Life He Oranga Kaumātua 2019-2034.  Digital education and digital inclusion do figure in number 4 of the five Key Action Areas  – Enhancing opportunities for social connection and participation. Zwimpfer suggests that Digital Inclusion should be recognised as a Key Action Area in its own right, given that it can contribute to all areas identified in the Strategy.  For example, as physical banking facilities are withdrawn, seniors are one of the most disadvantaged groups.  They are also amongst the most vulnerable when it comes to financial scams.  Seniors living in rural and remote areas are also facing new challenges in accessing health and social services and online technologies and services are starting to plug this gap.

Digital inclusion also figures in the Better Later Life/He Oranga KaumātuaAction Plan 2021 to 2024, published very recently. It is one of its three main priorities, alongside employment and housing. The aim is expressed as “Enabling older people to embrace technology and ensuring everyone can access essential services”. The proposed action includes ongoing activity by the Department of Internal Affairs, The Office for Seniors, and the Ministry of Social Development. Although the ultimate aim of digital inclusion is “an end state where everyone has equitable opportunities to take part in society using digital technologies,” there is recognition of people who do not use digital technology – “As people age, they safely use technology to improve their lives. People not online can still access the services they need.”

About Age Concern New Zealand 'on research'

At the heart of everything Age Concern does is a passion to see older people experience well-being, respect, dignity, and to be included and valued. We support, inform and advise older people on issues such as access to health care, transport, housing, financial entitlements, and social opportunities. We also work to combat real problems in our society, like elder abuse and neglect, chronic loneliness and social isolation. We provide specialist services with trained and qualified professionals able to give expert advice and assistance. Age Concern is a charity and relies on the support of volunteers and public donations to do much of the work we do. To help us help older people, please consider making a donation of your time or money. To see how, visit www.ageconcern.org.nz
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