Living in a digital world not easy for older Pennsylvanians
Lawmakers hear from advocates and experts working to improve technological literacy in senior population.
PHILADELPHIA, May 10 – Today, Pennsylvania lawmakers held a hearing to ask the question: who is helping older Pennsylvanians bridge the digital divide and what are the consequences if we don’t?
State Rep. Darisha Parker, D-Phila., hosted the hearing held by the Democratic Policy Committee, chaired by state Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, and attended by other members of the state House at the Community College of Philadelphia -- Northwest Regional Center.
A 2021 Pew Research study found that 67% of adults 65 or older said they use the internet, but that rate drops to only 14% for seniors 80 or older, leading to a gap in access to many modern-day access and convenience the digital world provides.
“As our society advances to become more and more digital, we need to make sure that no Pennsylvanian gets left behind,” Parker said. “Testimony we received today came from people dedicated to helping our aging residents with the everyday problems they face, the resources they need and what we can do in Harrisburg to help.”
In Pennsylvania, AARP Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Association of Area Agencies on Aging and similar groups are working to bridge the digital divide for older Pennsylvanians. Carolyn Green from the PA Department of Aging provided written testimony saying that Pennsylvania organizations successfully applied for funding for education and programming efforts to address this issue in Pennsylvania.
Thanks to $3 million in funding, from October 2020 through March 2022, approximately 1,800 consumers borrowed assistive technology devices such as iPads, smart phones, laptops, and hotspots. These funds are limited because they were tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning more funding is needed to keep these programs going.
“There is a greater need for funding programs that connect older Pennsylvanians with the technology we all depend on today,” said Rep. Tina Davis, D-Bucks. “There are some tremendous local organizations focused on educating people how to use today’s devices, protect from fraud and scams, and improve lives. We need to support these efforts at the state level, and I’m prepared to do that.”
Additional testimony came from Wayne Hunter, who is a local Philadelphia man offering lessons and assistance to older residents trying to use new technology. He started two organizations that connect seniors with resources to learn how to use smartphones, smart home appliances and any other technology.
Lawmakers also heard from elderly housing assistance experts, advocates, officials from the Philadelphia Register of Wills, and members of the community. Housing advocates said the digital divide impacts seniors’ ability to find housing and remain free from scams or fraud.
Parker added: “As we work to close the digital divide, we need to make sure these technologies are used to make lives better, particularly in the areas of housing and protecting older Pennsylvanians from harm.”
A full list of testifiers and their written testimony can be found at pahouse.com/policycommittee.