Getting Connected

Cj Jean-Louis (Office of Councilmember Andrea Campbell)
Maridena Rojas (The Boston Project Ministries)
Mike Sugarman (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
Kat Wyly (University of Washington)
Leslie Yan (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

The COVID-19 pandemic and its risks of in-person transmission have led to a rapid, wide-scale adoption of digital communication technologies such as Zoom and Slack, leaving older adults who were not already proficient with digital tools struggling to connect with their communities, friends, and families as they previously did. Likewise, the shuttering of in-person offices has pushed the virtualization of public services, putting those who are not familiar or comfortable with accessing these services online at a disadvantage. We are concerned with the exclusion of Age Strong residents, those 55 and older, from receiving information, services, and other points of access, as well as participating in civic and social experiences.

Our goal is to help older adults build their digital literacy skills through an immediate option for engaging with technology. Whether in the form of a flowchart, visual guide, or telephone conversation, the goal is to support community connection and public service access in ways similar to before the pandemic. We hope that the learning environment we design will foster both skill development and increased facility to apply these skills while navigating digital tools. We were originally focused on the potential of intergenerational relationships between older adults and teens as a method. We still envision this partnership as relevant and mutually beneficial to both groups, but have taken a step back to consider both the immediacy and frequency of technological confusion.

Through interviewing both older adults, high school students, and librarians, we have gained a broader picture of how programs and services have changed during the pandemic. We’ve also collected stories of how these changes have affected community members and what their specific technological needs might be. We aim to co-design with these partners to ensure that they feel empowered to interact with technology and build new connections, no matter their point of entry.

Cover image: Chris Montgomery in Unsplash