Roma Harris is a co-founding member of the volunteer community organization, Home4Good, which was created to identify strategies to help residents of a small Ontario village age-in-place in their own community. A former professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at The University of Western Ontario, Harris led the ‘Rural HIV/AIDS Information Networks Project’ funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and is co-editor, with Nadine Wathen and Sally Wyatt, of the books Mediating Health Information: The Go-Betweens in a Changing Socio-Technical Landscape and Configuring Health Consumers: Health Work and the Imperative of Personal Responsibility (Palgrave MacMillan, 2008, 2010) which explore the significant assumptions that underpin the idea of personal responsibility for health, consider how these assumptions attach to changing information technologies, and discuss their influence on emerging forms of health ‘work’, especially the often invisible health-related work (including health-informing work) that is increasingly expected of lay citizens. In one publication, ‘Blaming the Flowers for Wilting’: Idealized Aging in a Health Charity Video, Harris and her colleagues explore the discourses found in health promotion campaigns that deny the aging body and blame the elderly for ‘choosing’ not to be youthful and healthy.
‘It’s good to know that there’s someone who knows’: Creating a Seniors’ Information Hub
Growing old in a small tourist village in a sparsely populated and under-serviced rural area in Canada becomes problematic when one can no longer drive, can’t find appropriate housing and/or isn’t sure what services are available or where to find them. In this presentation we will describe how a group of volunteers is attempting to address the information problem in our community by creating an ‘Info Hub’ for seniors. Every Monday afternoon, one of several trained volunteers is available in the local branch of the public library to chat with people who are looking for information to support themselves or an older person they know. Our volunteers claim no special expertise and we are not service providers. Our goal is simply to be available for support and to point inquirers toward services that may be of help to them. In collaboration with staff from the local library we maintain a database of area resources that is updated monthly with content relevant to questions that range from ‘Who can I get to clean my eavestroughs?’ to ‘How can I support my neighbour who is losing her memory?”. To help ourselves and as well as interested community members to keep abreast of changes in the service sector we regularly arrange open information sessions with area support agencies. Although a great deal of material about community services is available through resources such as the Ontario 211 helpline or publicly-funded websites such as SouthWesthealthline.ca , in our experience, few people in our community know of their existence and even fewer know how such sites are relevant to their own situations. Furthermore, some of the information provided is not specific enough or sufficiently granular in detail to be useful. Our project is popular precisely because it is ‘low-tech, soft touch’ and responsive to local concerns and it may be transferable to other under-serviced rural contexts. Consistent with research results reported in the extensive literature on help- and information-seeking, we find that the opportunity to interact, in person, with someone from one’s own community who takes the time to listen is highly valued, even by those who don’t need our help. As we hear repeatedly, ‘I don’t need you right now, but it’s good to know there’s someone who knows in case I do’.