The Best of…Seniors to Become Computer Savvy

Published June  11, 2001, Pawtucket Times

           More than 50 years ago, Richard Walton received a Smith Corona portable typewriter from his parents for his 21st birthday.   Over the years the journalist and writer Walton, now age 73, touched typed eleven books on that bulky machine.  From his college days in the late forties until the early 1990s, he continued to use the antique typewriter.                 

         Today Walton has gone through three computers, his present system is a Compaq Presario, Model 7470.  “It pretty much has all the bells and whistles,” Walton says.  As a journalist he loves his computer because “you don’t have to retype entire pages.”  With his Smith Corona, any typos forced him to retype entire pages.   Now paragraphs can be moved around with ease, to view and change before the final draft.

         Walton gets other bennies from using new computer technology.  “I communicate with people everywhere using e-mail” he say,noting that when he needs to research topics for his articles its simple, just cruise the World Wide Web.

       Walton is one of growing number of seniors who are using the computer to keep in touch with family and friends, word processing documents, keeping the checkbook, making electronic purchases for a vast variety of items, from books, drugstore purchases to travel packages.  Seniors can also tap into this evolving technology to research and buy stocks and to do their banking and pay their bills. 

      Stacy Dieter, vice president of Business Development for SeniorNet, a nonprofit San Francisco-based company that teaches seniors to use computers and the internet, calls seniors “savvy” when it comes to operating computers.  “May be younger people are more use to maneuvering the mouse, but seniors can quickly pick up how the use the computer technology,” she says.

      Older adults are the fastest growing audience online, Dieter tells The Times.   According to Jupiter Communications, Dieter notes that by the year 2003, it is estimated that 27.3 million people over age 50 years old will be using the Internet regularly.”

       Adds Dieter, computer ownership is also slowly increasing too.   A SeniorNet and Charles Schwab & Company 1998 market research study found that 40 percent of all seniors now own a computer at home compared with 29 percent in 1995.  Meanwhile, seniors spend more time per month online (38 hours) than any other age group, with more than 83 percent making daily visits to the Internet, she says.

      Senior centers are also moving into the computer age by making computers more accessible to their older participants.   With assistance from the state’s Department of Elderly Affairs (DEA), a growing number of senior centers acrossRhode Islandare opening up computer labs. 

      With two Compaq computers provided by DEA, one donated by a Rhode Island  Dot.Com company, FindRI.Com, and one surplus City of Pawtucket computer, Joan Crawley, Director of Pawtucket’s Leon Mathius Senior Center, pieced together her equipment, bringing the computer age Pawtucket’s seniors.

        Beginning in June, a small multi-use room in the Senior Center, originally used for health promotion activities, was transformed into a computer lab.   The City of Pawtucket provided the expertise to install the computers with Internet access.

       “We’re in the organizational phase right now,”Crawley says, adding that her waiting list of seniors wanting to learn how to use computers and the Internet has grown to more than 30.

         Although Pawtucket’s Senior Center Director expects the computer lab to be up and running and courses taught by the fall, the computers are now available for use by those who are knowledgeable about their use.  Half and hour time slots will be made available to these individuals.

          Meanwhile, volunteer instructors are now being recruited to teach the basics (using computer’s key board and mouse) to learning computer software programs and how to surf the Internet.          “The perfect volunteer might be someone who has recently retired and wants to share their expertise,”Crawley says.  The more volunteers will allow the computer lab to have extended hours. .

          Why a computer lab?   “We want our seniors to use the Internet to look up information on health care, Social Security or even about Medicare. Crawley notes that a social worker will be available to assist the computer user in culling the needed information from the targeted web sites.

          Crawley adds, “Ultimately we would like to get an e-mail address so that seniors can talk to their love ones who live are far away.”  Additionally, she believes that savvy senior computer users can save money too, by not spending money for newspapers and magazine subscriptions.  They can just use the Internet to seek out information in hundreds of thousands of newspapers or magazines published around the world.

          By adding a computer lab to the Senior Center’s programming, “We’re very excited about bringing Pawtucket’s senior population into the 21st century,Crawley says gleefully.

          SeniorNet is the world’s largest trainer of adults over 50 on computer technology and the Internet with 220+ SeniorNet Learning Centers in 38 states as well as the best on-line community for older
adults at

           Herbert P. Weiss is a Pawtucket Rhode Island-based writer covering aging, health and medical care  This article appeared in June 11, 2001 in the Pawtucket Times. He can be reached at

The Best of…New Strategies are Needed to Work with Hispanic Seniors

Published April 16, 2001, Pawtucket Times 

           As expected, the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2000 census data reveals that the United States of America has truly become a “tossed salad” of races and ethnic groups.Rhode Island’s growing minority population reflects this national trend.  Minority groups represent about 25 percent of the state’s total population.  In Providence, minority groups are now in the majority.

            The Hispanic population in Rhode Island, now representing 8.7 percent of the state’s total population, has doubled in the past ten years, climbing from 45,752 in the 1990 census to 90,820 in the latest census figures.  Eighty percent of this increase has occurred in Providence, Pawtucket and Central Falls.

            Aging service providers will need to adopt new strategies and ways to enhance access to programs and services to a growing Hispanic senior population.     

            Census data does not always give us an accurate demographic snap shot of the nation’s population, warned Edgar E. Rivas, Vice President for Policy at the National Hispanic Council on Aging.  “We really don’t know how many Latino elders are out there because of the potential undercount of immigrant Latino elders,” he stated.            

            Oftentimes, Hispanic families are not accurately reflected in census data because of their own distrust of the U.S. Census Bureau, Rivas told The Times.  . “Even those aging service providers who have a knowledge base of serving this population will have a very hard time if the undercounted seniors come out of the wood work,” he said.

            “Aging service providers will have to relearn how to conduct culturally appropriate outreach and to provide services in ways that are comfortable to their Hispanic clients,” Rivas added.  To often Latino elders may be eligible for services but because of the way the services are delivered, they don’t feel welcome to the services, he noted, ultimately the choose to rely on informal caregivers or just go without services.

            According to Rivas, informational materials about programs and services will have to be rewritten to reflect the specific needs of older Hispanics.  For instance, the Health Care Finance Administration offers bilingual materials to explain federal programs, like Medicare and Medicaid.  Even with this material written in Spanish, many aging Hispanic elders are intimidated by the way the information is presented.  This problem can easily be corrected if Hispanic aging advocates develop more user-friendly materials (e.g., using Spanish language videos, peer educators or literature using pictures to illustrate issues).

              Ann Hill, former director of the Providence-based Saint Martin de Porres Senior Center and well-known aging advocate, states that with a more ethnically diverse population, nonprofit agencies must hire personnel that can reach out, understand and meet the needs of various ethnic groups.  She calls for more public dollars to be provided to the agencies to help them accomplish this goal.

             ,Joan Crawley, Senior Center Director at the Leon Mathieu Senior Center, agrees.   With interpreters who speak Spanish and Cape Verdian Creole at Pawtucket’s senior center, non-English speaking CapeVerdian and Hispanic seniors can now come in to see a primary care physician, with a social worker on hand to interpret their medical complaints and to explain treatment plans.  The social work is also available to case manage any of the other social service needs that the Hispanic or CapeVerdian client may have.

             “We’re always trying to increase the trust level between our staff and the ethnic seniors who come to our senior center,”Crawley added, noting that she wants them to feel comfortable bringing their problems to her staff.  

             Susan Sweet, Chairperson of the Rhode Island Elder Minority Task Force and a consultant for minority and nonprofit agencies, commented that she applauds “the efforts of agencies serving elders to diversity their staff and services to serve all the elders in their communities.  However, it is extremely important to acknowledge, support, and strengthen those agencies that have been and continue to be the basic resource for minority elders, such as Progreso Latino, Cape Verdian Community Development Association (CACD), and Projecto Esperanza, to name a few in the Pawtucket/Central Falls area.”

             “No longer can we do business as in the past.  We must update our strategies of delivering programs and service to meet the new century of diversity,” Sweet said. 

             Herb Weiss covers health, medical care and aging issues.  This article appeared in The Pawtucket Times in April 16, 2001.  He can be reached at