Local stakeholders and engaged knowledgeable students are eager to teach, support, train and help with basic computer skills.
According to Pew researchers, more than a quarter of people who are 65 and older admitted to never going online. Due to lack of confidence and lack of support, and training, online usage for people over 80 drops further.
Dr. Galina Reitz, Senior Lecturer and Faculty Director, for Information Science at the Universities at Shady Grove seeks to remedy this problem. She is the head organizer for The Information Technology for the Aging Person (iTAP) program. iTAP is an effort from the College of Information Studies to support the local Maryland aging community by inviting the older adults, and caregivers, to be part of a space where they along with community partners and students will meet and discuss the technology needs for this elder community.
This project is unique in that there is no University effort like this, where the project gives back to the aging community in such a tangible way. Other organizations such as AARP, Senior Planet and OATS (Older Adults Technology Services) and a few senior centers in Maryland provide some technology support either virtually or in the community but, there is still a major lack of local, individualized support. By providing technology support on the Rockville USG campus iTAP provides a space for intergenerational relationships to be built surrounding technology. Through this initiative, the program will engage knowledgeable students who are eager to teach, support, train and help with basic computer skills such as internet use, email, mobile devices, social media, and accessing county services online and other resources. Gains made by the Information Science graduate and undergraduate students include valuable research opportunities that will enhance their interactive, and development skills.
Through this project iTAP has gained traction and support from local stakeholders such as Montgomery County Commissioners on Aging. They are excited, interested and connected with the aging population and see a real need for this initiative. iTAP is also collaborating with Designing for Aging graduate course instructor Dr. Amanda Lazar, Assistant Professor at the College Park campus. This partnership has constructed four in person co-design sessions between students and elders, culminating in a final presentation of the design proposals. The goal is to bring forth healthcare technologies designed for the aged.
During the past five years of supporting older adults and their caregivers in various capacities through technology education, Galina has been asked by older adults and community partners to create a space (physical or virtual) where older adults can find the latest information on technology, be provided with helpful resources that are useful, and have a conversation with a real person. “This project is so important because it comes from a real need in the community.” Says Galina “Ultimately, we will be able to better understand the technology needs of the seniors we work with and support them appropriately.”
The impact of this project is not to just simply teach about hardware/software but bridge the digital divide and ultimately iTAP will gain a lot of feedback about participant’s needs and propose technology design solutions. The cybersecurity clinics could reach a diverse population of seniors with varying technology abilities who are vulnerable to fraud and misinformation. . This aligns very well with Fearlessly Forward and UMD Age Friendly. According to Galina, they would be one of the only if not the only initiative that is part of a university that has elders come to campus for class/education and intergenerational relationship building. “This project is sustainable, exciting and will reach a part of the community that has been left behind particularly after the digital divide that was exacerbated by the pandemic. The potential to reach beyond Montgomery County and Maryland and expand is exciting and taking the center virtually and online would be a next tangible step to expanding the idea.”