Chennai

Seniors pick up digital skills to stay connected

Illustration: Sebastian Francis  

East Coast Beach Walkers Association’s (ECBWA) first executive committee meeting for this year, conducted in August, was preceded by more-than-usual preparation. It was a virtual meeting and a majority of the ECBWA members being baby boomers, aged above 60, they needed a primer on it.

So, four to five days before the meeting, mock sessions were organised for the EC members, in batches.

Well-versed with the technology supporting the meeting, R. Thanasekaran, an EC member and a resident of Thiruvanmiyur, handled these sessions, teaching them the how-to of a virtual meeting, including having to raise a hand to ask a question, send a query through a chat message and when to switch on the audio.

When the meeting took place on August 15 through Webex, 21 of the 30 members were in attendance.

“We are really happy with the turnout, as it is similar to the attendance for our in-person meetings. We were able to discuss some resolutions that had been put on hold due to the pandemic as the EC meeting scheduled for April could not be conducted,” says T. Arunachalam, secretary, ECBWA.

The meeting has offered its participants some unintended benefits.

“The online meeting has helped some members to give vent to the frustrations caused by the pandemic,” says Arunachalam. “One of our members is 74 years old and has not stepped out of his house since March. You can’t imagine the happiness on his face when he met us all online.”

Beating loneliness

Digital literacy can be a tool for seniors to beat the loneliness of being cooped up in their homes.

In the pre-lockdown days, Nagarajan Subramanian, retired professor from the Tamil Nadu Agriculture University, would attend the satsang of Sathya Sai Seva Samithi and meetings of Tamil Nadu Senior Citizens Association.

“These activities have come to a halt since the lockdown but some of them are happening online,” says Nagarajan. who is 73-years-old.

Nagarajan seeks to be tech-savvy and had benefited from having this attitude.

“I log in to the online satsang programmes, attending them three days of the week.” says Subramanian.

Recently, he attended an online workshop by HelpAge India picking up the digital skills necessary to pay bills and access services.

“I plan to start using them rather than stepping out of the house to buy essentials and access services,” he says.

Regular workshops

HelpAge India conducts digital literacy workshops for groups working for the welfare of senior citizens — these include Probus Club, Tamil Nadu Senior Citizens Association, Tamil Nadu Retired Officials Association. These sessions are open to individuals too.

“Many of the seniors who have a smartphone or an iPad don’t use it optimally. This is the time to learn how to do so,” says Muthukrishnan R, senior manager, HelpAge India.

The workshops have been shifted online.

“Our in-person workshops usually attract 20-25 participants but recently when we conducted a session for Probus Club, around 50 people signed up for it,” says Muthukrishnan.

HelpAge helped set the schedule for two virtual meetings organised by the Tami Nadu Senior Citizens Association.

Similarly, Dignity Foundation’s Theneer Arangam did not draw many of its members when it was shifted online due to lockdown restrictions. In June, the meetings were attended by 45-50 people. “We realised many were not comfortable attending online meetings as they were not familiar with the technology, so we had our team members go to their houses and teach them. Now, we have close to 100 members attending these online sessions from our four chapters in Chennai,” says a counsellor with Dignity Foundation.

However, everyone agrees that virtual meetings cannot replace in-person meetings, and can only be a supplement. The spontaneity of the latter cannot be substituted.

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Printable version | Oct 21, 2020 12:01:56 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/seniors-pick-up-digital-skills-to-stay-connected/article32649692.ece

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