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Connected Living Ambassadors of Tech
Outreach to link seniors and computers -- more needed. Although there are multiple approaches to opening up the vast world of the Internet to seniors, rarely do they reach all the way into the home. These include the FloH Club (telephone service), senior centers or SeniorNet (center-based), online training programs (like Computer School For Seniors), or online tech support (crossloop.com). Consider bundled offerings like IN2L that provide access to seniors in senior housing -- or a la carte software like PointerWare. All good, but none involve MyWay Village's Ambassador approach.
Comcast and MyWay Village pilot Chicago program in the home. This fall, MyWay Villlage began piloting its Connected Living program into community programs like this AgingWell in West Roxbury, MA. And at the request of Comcast in Chicago seeking a way to engage older customers, they piloted a bundle, including access to Connected Living along with Comcast's broadband service. The goal, according to Anna Hall Director of the Ambassador Program at MyWay Village -- was to 'provide an easy way to use a computer -- without frustration.'
Ambassadors make it work. An integral part of Connected Living depends on ambassadors are well-trained part-time contractors, background checked, who have already been helping MyWay Village support its computers and software in retirement housing environments. They develop relationships with seniors, according to Anna, "learning about their social needs, requirement for adaptive equipment, and helping them see how the computer (typically a desktop machine) can enhance their life." The Connected Living service is $9.99/month -- and the special Comcast high-speed access deal in the Chicago pilot was $19.99. The Connected Living service also is combined with a Call Center, where the responders are trained the same way as the ambassadors.
Connected Living connects volunteer ambassadors to seniors. MyWay Village's Connected Living initiative has also recruited volunteer ambassadors from the local community -- including seniors and stay-at-home moms, and in West Roxbury, 14 volunteer high school students have volunteered time to teach seniors at the high school lab.
Using the Internet as a catalyst for collaborative reminiscences. Using discussion groups to introduce seniors (in whatever setting), Anna says: "We introduce them to 'the wonder of the Internet'. For example, in a class about big band music, when someone asks a question about Benny Goodman, we search for him online and find his music. That triggers a group reminiscence about Benny Goodman, and then each can go back to their online account and write about their memories, creating a collaborative memoir."
Prediction -- home companion services will include computer guidance. Just as the ambassadors for Connected Living help seniors with computers, so too, there are home companion services that include computer support -- like Engage as You Age in the Bay area. Given growth in home companion care as part of the overall trend to age in place, expect that moving forward, initial assessments of home care requirements include an assessment of willingness to learn more about computers and would respond to a tech ambassador.