The launch of the Digital Age Project brings the benefits of the internet to those most digitally excluded: older people living in sheltered housing.
Today (20 Nov) the Digital Age Partnership officially launched a new four year scheme funded by the Big Lottery Fund to address digital exclusion experienced by older people living in sheltered accommodation.
The kick-off event for the Digital Age Project was hosted by Newington Housing Association at their Camberwell Court location. It featured guest speakers Lucinda McMurran from Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations and Alison Fraser, Senior Head of Funding for the Big Lottery Fund. Residents from Camberwell Court who have recently started a digital training course also attended to share their experiences thus far.
Digital exclusion is not just an issue of having access to a computer or not, the way we use technology impacts on all aspects of modern life. The information age has changed how we interact and communicate with each other, access news and services, and how we spend our money.
'This is an equality issue', said Healy King, Development Officer for the Digital Age Project, 'If only some people in Northern Ireland have access to information tools such as online learning, electronic health records, and e-government services, that places the have-not's at a distinct disadvantage. The ability for all citizens to access and understand information is critical for an equitable society. We cannot allow age to be used as an excuse to leave anyone behind."
Diarmuid Moore, WEA Assistant Director, said, "There are all kinds of barriers to getting online affecting older people, both in practice and attitude. Many older people simply don't realize how new technologies are relevant to their lives. The WEA's mission is to make learning irresistible, so this project aims not only to provide access and teach skills, but also to reveal the many benefits and opportunities that the internet can provide in later life.'
Lucinda McMurran, Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations added, 'There is a strong correlation between digital exclusion and social exclusion. While of course we think digital inclusion is important in its own right, we are also keen to address other issues that older people in sheltered housing may face, such as the need for positive social interaction with peers, family and the wider community, the need to access information and services, and the need to make the best use of limited finances.
'We know these last two will become even more important as the impending Welfare Reform changes will create services that are 'digital by default', making online interactions the government's preferred way of working. We are delighted to be part of this project which aims to use digital inclusion to improve overall well-being.'
An intergenerational element of this programme will also help sheltered housing schemes to make connections with schools and youth groups in their area. Vicki Titterington from Linking Generations NI remarked that 'making those links between older and younger people in the community, helping them to learn from each other, that is the key to sustaining this kind of project and to relationship building for years to come.'