It's never too late to get online
The Government is aiming to give the UK the best broadband connection in Europe by 2015, today announcing which ten cities will get a share of a £100m investment to receive 'super-fast' broadband. The commitment from Government to provide fast broadband in these cities is fantastic and will mean that, for some older people, accessing the internet will be faster and more convenient. But, for many, the internet and the benefits it offers remain an unknown entity – with over 5.7 million older people in the UK having never surfed the net and not knowing about the brilliant hidden gems it offers. I am really keen to show just how much difference being connected to the web can make to the lives of older people.
Often in today's society we take for granted the instant access to information, the ease of shopping online and the ability to chat to friends without being in the same room. But for many older people the internet is not a part of everyday life, despite the huge benefits that being online can bring to those who are perhaps lonely, isolated, struggling financially and living in different towns, cities or even countries to loved ones. For those of us with disabilities, myself included as my hearing has severely deteriorated in recent years, the internet can open up a whole new world.
I was recently awarded the title of Age UK Internet Champion for the work I do to help other older people get online and for my passion and enthusiasm for the way the web can improve our lives. I have daughters and grandchildren who live in different parts of the country and if it weren't for the internet I would feel very out of the loop. However, there are often obstacles which prevent older people from getting online and many would benefit from one-to-one help to overcome the initial barriers they may feel are stopping them from taking the first step. It can be hard to know where to start: using the equipment can be overwhelming and then there is the task of learning unfamiliar jargon such as 'mouse', 'cursor' and 'browser' – let alone where to find the letters on the keyboard!
However, age is certainly no barrier – I am 80 years old and still learning and teaching new things everyday. Since taking my first steps in computing I have many older people get online through volunteering as a tutor and through my own website Silver Hairs which aims to answer questions people have as they explore the net. The site gets hundreds of visits a day, showing the thirst for learning is there. My oldest pupil was 94 and a housebound widower. After a few initial lessons he made new friends online, took up digital photography and learned how to do his shopping using the internet. He even sold a car online.
My internet journey began when I was at work and the internet was first made available, but my real learning curve began when I retired and my hearing became progressively worse. I taught myself by reading books and computer magazines. I would make notes each time I found out about things such as email and browsing the net. The accumulated information finally became a book, which I self published. My learning helped inspire other older people to learn too – which is something I am very proud of.
The internet has also enabled me to 'socialise' with people all over Britain and the world, despite my hearing difficulties. I find telephoning difficult but I can hold online conversations with my daughters via text and Skype – and do so regularly. It has really prevented the isolation that many people just accept as part of their lives. I know I am not alone in this; over 700,000 people aged 65 or over in the UK say they are always or often feel lonely. This is a statistic that we can easily do something about.
I am encouraging older people to make the most of Age UK's Myfriends Online Week. Help is provided by offering classes and providing information and advice about how to use the web. The charity is also calling on anyone who knows how to use technology to become an Age UK Digital Champion and helps share their knowledge with an older person in their life.
My story proves that it is never too late to learn or teach.
For more information log on to www.ageuk.org.uk/digital-champions