For quite some time now I have been concerned about the subject of Digital Exclusion in the over-55 age group.
As the digital revolution gathers momentum around us and is currently on an accelerated trajectory with the introduction of AI, spare a thought for those who have been left behind.
The digital gap between those who work online and those who can’t is not just getting wider, it is making it almost impossible to catch up.
If you have missed out on learning to work online, either because you never had to do it, or someone else did it for you and then you suddenly need to do it, it is a massive challenge. Not having adequate digital skills to complete everyday tasks such as banking or applying for medical / government appointments is frightening, upsetting, and worrying.
“I feel sick to my stomach, trying to get my tax return sorted out this year. I used to be able to go to Galway and a person would help me complete the forms. My daughter says she will help me but she is so busy I don’t like to bother her. Because I am unable to understand how to do it online, I am now late with my returns, and this increases my distress”
This is a very typical expression of the upset and isolation felt by an older person dealing with bureaucracy in an online world. Even trying to access a phone number to ask for support is difficult. If you can get through to a person, it is commonplace for the staff to be much younger and not to have been trained to communicate clearly or with empathy to someone who has no digital experience.
Researching Digital exclusion to create this article, I have found several detailed reports highlighting the issue.
Despite the publication in August 2023 by Minister Donohoe “Digital For Good- Irelands Digital Inclusion Roadmap” which pledges:
“we will achieve digital inclusion through a coherent and integrated all-of-government approach to delivering the United Nations principle of “Leave No One Behind”
My experience indicates quite clearly that there is a generation who are very much being “Left behind”, as age is not on their side and the pledges of help are simply not being rolled out quickly enough, nor is the investment to support the grassroots immediate action required.
Vodaphone’s program of investment in the digital exclusion space “Hi Digital” also claims to be committed to tackling the problem, however when I enquired where the face-to-face digital skills classes promised are available in County Clare, I was told they are still registering interest. ( over a year after launch)
An investment of €2 million across 26 counties over 5 years will barely scratch the surface. Also, the scheme depends on volunteers to deliver the face-to-face program who I suspect they are struggling to recruit.
“26 April 2022: Vodafone Ireland Foundation has today announced the launch of face-to-face digital skills training classes for over 65-year-olds in Gigabit Hubs and *Public Broadband Connection Points (BCPs) across the 26 counties. There will be an investment of over €2 million over five years in the Hi Digital program, and more than 26,273 sessions have been initiated by older people online to date.”
I have just delivered my first program of Everyday Digital classes to a group of women in Ennis.
What struck me was not just the practical impact a lack of digital skills has on each of them but the devastating toll it has on their confidence and mental well-being.
It takes more than a 6-week, class-based course to feel confident enough to trust your private information online. Most of the class required either additional one-to-one support or further training after the 6 weeks.
More options, especially with smaller groups or individuals are urgently needed to support this swept aside generation, especially in rural areas.
I plan to continue and develop my training in Everyday Digital because my concern for the requirement for support to reduce digital exclusion has been more than validated over the past 6 weeks.
Recognition of the problem is a start, but support is needed now.
Recent Vodafone report reveals just over half (53%) of Irish adults are equipped with basic digital skills over 65s are well below the EU average at 19% v 25%