Nicole has spearheaded HelpAge Canada’s Digital Literacy programs since joining the organization in July 2020. This includes leading the development and delivery of the pan-Canadian Dig-IT program which provides tablets, data and digital literacy education paired with volunteer support to low-income seniors; as well as the Connected Elders and Youth program, a unique intergenerational digital learning program being delivered in eight communities that incorporates Inuit guiding principles for societal values, employs youth in each community as digital mentors and provides over 250 devices.
In addition to digital literacy, Nicole is overseeing HelpAge Canada’s granting program that combats social exclusion and creates innovative programming for low-income older Canadians, and is leading work related to Age-friendly transportation.
Prior to joining HelpAge Canada, Nicole worked to ensure diversity at the most senior levels of organizations across Canada, as an executive search consultant with a Diversity and Indigenous search practice. Working with organizations and communities coast to coast to coast has given Nicole an appreciation for the diversity of cultures and the disparity of needs in Canada. This drives her to ensure that both existing and new HelpAge Canada programs best respond to the priorities of older adults as they identify them, and the communities of which they are apart.
Technology and the Future of Healthy Aging in Canada
Dorina Simeonov is the Policy and Knowledge Mobilization Manager at AGE-WELL, Canada’s Technology and Aging Network. She is responsible for supporting researchers and trainees to develop knowledge mobilization strategies to ensure the network is achieving real-world impact across Canada. Dorina also works to build and nurture strong partnerships with policy and government partners to support evidence-informed decision-making related to technology and aging. Prior to joining AGE-WELL, Dorina worked as a policy analyst and knowledge broker in the mental health sector. Dorina is also the Operations Officer for Art the Science, a Canadian not-for-profit organization committed to celebrating the connections between art and science.
Raza M. Mirza, PhD, currently works in research at the University of Toronto’s Institute for Life Course and Aging as an Assistant Professor (Status), and is the Network Manager for the non-profit organization the National Initiative for the Care of the Elderly (NICE; www.nicenet.ca), an international knowledge transfer network in the field of aging. He is the community lead for the Toronto HomeShare Program, was the co-lead for an age-friendly community study of social isolation of Chinese seniors in the Kensington-Chinatown area in Toronto, and is the chair of the Central Ontario Age-Friendly Network.
Kim Sawchuk is a Professor in the Department of Communication Studies, Concordia University, Montreal. She is the Director of Ageing + Communication + Technologies (www.actproject.ca) and holds a Concordia University Research Chair in Mobile Media Studies.
Nicole Perry, HelpAge Canada, Canada
Dorina Simeonov, AGE-WELL, Canada’s Technology and Aging Network, Canada
Raza M. Mirza, University of Toronto, Canada
Kim Sawchuk, Concordia University, Canada
COVID 19 has transformed the Canadian experience of, and engagement with, technology. Tech has permeated nearly every facet of our lives: daily we join virtual social and learning environments, we work from home offices, we participate in online communities, we rely on crowdsourcing apps like Uber, we sport wearable tech like smart watches, we do online banking and investing, shop on-demand, and find convenience in the fact that recreation activities like choirs and yoga classes are hosted on online platforms. Technology is truly integral today for the collective common elements of daily life and our social participation.
Older persons have been full participants of the Canadian technology transformation. As the highest risk population to COVID-19, seniors were faced with an acute isolation which for many was mediated through technology. Many older people already had devices and the digital skills to engage through Zoom and take advantage of the growing opportunities afforded by the digital universe. For marginalized and low-income older people, or those in rural communities however, devices, connectivity, and digital literacy were not accessible, and these are the silent victims who suffered the most from isolation and crippling loneliness.
As we look to the future of Canada, by 2050, one in five Canadians will be over the age of 60 and technology will certainly play a further normative role in social participation. Even more critically, more advanced health and wellbeing support technologies will allow older people to age at home, in community, for longer. Technology (as it does today) will assist older people manage better with hearing loss or visual impairments, dementia, diabetes, disabilities and special needs, and just about any medical or social issue to be faced.
How do we prepare for that future and what will it actually look like? How do we create a Canada where technology is accessible to all people? A Canada where we can all age together, with dignity?
Presenter #1, Nicole Perry
Telling our story: A journey towards an age-friendly digital Canada
This presentation will share the experience of HelpAge Canada in its goal of assisting 100,000 seniors to become empowered digital citizens by 2030. In delivering COVID-19 emergency relief across Canada, the greatest unmet need for marginalized seniors become abundantly clear to HelpAge Canada: isolated seniors needed to stay connected, and that meant technology. As a result, HelpAge Canada is currently engaged in two digital literacy programs: Dig-IT and Connected Elders and Youth.
Dig-IT is intended to be a solution for low-income seniors to access technology and build digital skills: a holistic digital literacy program that includes devices, data, technical assistance, online educational courses and corresponding learning materials, a community of trained volunteers to support and encourage older adult participants, and a curated resource library to help expand digital learning.
Connected Elders and Youth is a HelpAge Canada digital literacy program, promoting intergenerational connection between Elders and youth in Nunavut. Elders in community learn from young Inuit mentors how to use a tablet to communicate, access information and services, as well as for entertainment and knowledge sharing purposes.
The Presentation will narrate HelpAge Canada’s experience of creating and delivering these projects. In doing so, we will discuss the barriers and challenges we and our partners face and connect these themes to broader issues related to the future of technology and healthy ageing, access to technology, ageism, and inclusion in the digital world.
Presenter #2, Dorina Simeonov
Increasing the benefits and accessibility of AgeTech
AGE-WELL is Canada’s Technology and Aging Network. The pan-Canadian network brings together researchers, older adults, caregivers, startups, partner organizations and future leaders to accelerate the delivery of technology-based solutions that make a meaningful difference in the lives of Canadians. AGE-WELL researchers and affiliated startups are producing technologies, services, policies and practices that benefit older adults by supporting their desire to maintain their independence, health and quality of life. These innovations include health apps, wearable therapies, smart-home systems and socially assistive robots. There is an expectation that new technologies are user-friendly and practical, but on its own, that is not sufficient to ensure equitable access to the benefits of technology across the diverse communities found in Canada. Accessible programs and supports for technology and digital literacy are a key component to delivering solutions that can benefit all older adults. During this session, AGE-WELL will share their approach to supporting the development and implementation of solutions across Canada which strongly involves and considers older adults and caregivers. This approach helps to address the barriers to technology access and adoption across communities with unique needs and demographics.
Presenter #3, Raza M. Mirza
Designing and developing Virtual Age-Friendly Communities (VAFC)
As a result of COVID-19 and associated public health measures for physical distancing, virtual platforms such as Zoom and FaceTime have been increasingly important for older adults living in the community and in residential care settings to stay connected to one another, to family members and to service providers. For older adults, these well-meaning responses and quick pivot to online modes of communication and engagement may have implications associated with technology literacy, lack of access to appropriate hardware, and connectivity issues due to a lack of access to wireless networks. In many ways, virtual communities have replicated and replaced the physical communities that older adults belonged to. The pandemic has fast-tracked many aspects of ‘digital life’, and the global population is now more immersed and reliant on virtual communities than ever. In the same way that physical communities have benefited from an age-friendly lens, virtual communities should also be designed, developed and maintained with similar guiding principles. During this session we will explore how seniors can safely and actively engage and participate in virtual communities, as well as our vision for the development of a new framework that outlines how virtual communities can be made accessible and age-friendly for older adults.
Presenter #4, Kim Sawchuk
Aging, digital care work and warm experts
This presentation examines the key role played by employees working in long-term residences for seniors in “digital care work” during the pandemic. Digital care work builds upon the proposition forwarded by Canadian communications scholar Maria Bakardjieva, who has suggested that ICT (Internet and Communication Technology) learning often occurs with the assistant of “warm experts”: trusted people who help inexperienced users negotiate digital devices. Warm experts are typically family or friends who share tips and techniques in informal settings, offering a non-threatening environment for learning. While digital technologies, such as iPads, were made available to seniors through programs such as “Seniors Can Connect!” (SCC!) and through organizations such as HelpAge Canada to alleviate the digital disconnection and social isolation of this population during the pandemic, the provision of devices alone is not enough. Mentors working for SCC!, as well as employees in log-term care residences came to occupy the critical role of the warm expert, assisting older adults in the process of remote learning. Drawing on semi-structured interviews with care providers working in these formal settings, the presentation discusses how the implementation of digital access programs transformed the work of employees in long-term residences and how the strategies deployed to facilitate digital access. It also discusses the innovations in programming devised and the challenges and opportunities encountered in the role as warm experts.