With Aotearoa/New Zealand’s annual holiday season almost upon us and Covid-19 restrictions in place, this year many of our seniors will be facing a Christmas of loneliness rather than family gatherings. Those who aren’t yet digitally connected have additional challenges being unable to even see family faces via video calls as an alternative to meeting in person. The internet affects social relationships in many ways, but as a backup when visiting is impossible it can be really positive, helping reduce social isolation and loneliness.
The current attention to digital inclusion and equity in Aotearoa/New Zealand is good news for marginalised groups – including seniors – who have been identified as most at risk of being disadvantaged in everyday life by their exclusion from the digital world around them.
Maintaining social connections and access to services are two keys to living contented, independent lives as we grow older. Both of these increasingly need an online presence. As younger generations discard landline phones and communicate more by text and photo exchanges, their off-line seniors are left out of the loop of day-to-day family news. As service providers – including government agencies – move to online access and reduce in-person and telephone contact, these seniors are either excluded or forced to rely on others, losing their independence.
In 2020 and 2021, Covid-19 has highlighted these inequities with lockdowns, travel restrictions and limits on family visits and gatherings. Our seniors both in residential care and living independently who were reliant on face-to-face visits have been particularly isolated and at risk of loneliness. Their options for face-to-face access to services from banking to health and community involvement through churches, social groups, and libraries have been curtailed as it has for younger generations, but without the backup of an online option.
The gap between digital skills needed for life in Aotearoa and the reality for our senior generation is now being addressed, with robust research on the skills divide and programs such as Better Digital Futures already in place.
As a provider of touch-screen tablets designed specifically for seniors, New Zealand company Kitcal recognises the elements of digital inclusion – motivation, access, skills and trust – identified in The Digital Inclusion Blueprint that is informing current government initiatives to bring seniors online.
Our mission encompasses all these elements with an emphasis on access. We’ve broken this down further, identifying three linked components that all need to be provided:
- Affordable, reliable internet access
- Appropriate hardware
- Appropriate software
Kitcal’s vision is to bring generations together through a digital connection. We recognise that not all seniors want or are able to use existing technology, so we designed a pre-configured purpose-built tablet with simple features so that they can be safely and securely connected without the usual challenges and barriers. We’ve met the brief for the three components of access, and we’re working with providers, including Age Concern, on the other key elements.
The outcome of this combined mahi will be the inclusion of these seniors in digital technology, reconnecting them with their families and support structures, reducing their social isolation and boosting their confidence to live independently.
You can read more about Kitcal, our mission to reduce loneliness through digital inclusion and our tablet for seniors on our website at our Kitcal website.