Older people in the era of digitalisation

What are the main concerns when it comes to the era of digitalisation and older persons?

“Many types of technologies have been introduced to our lives and a wide range of technologies are being used by older people from mobile phones to robot carers. Digital devices and services show a huge potential for people to better participate in society, such as online services, and support to their independent living, such as assistive technologies and robotics.

Yet to date few older persons are able to fully benefit from such technologies due to unavailability, high costs, restrictive eligibility criteria, lack of integration within existing systems of support, inadequate information about services and limited awareness and skills necessary to engage with technological solutions. At the same time, technology can be empowering but also disabling; it can enhance inclusion but also allow for intrusion; it can promote independence but also lead to abuse.

By overcoming challenges, we could actually enhance older persons’ participation in the society.”

What current concrete challenges older persons face in terms of digitalisation?

“As is reasonably logical to expect, challenges are very much linked to older people’s concerns. These challenges include the fear of being excluded, the fear of privacy loss and lack of data protection, and the fear to replace human being with machines. Opportunities and challenges depend on the system’s technical abilities and default settings. As soon as digitalisation will be framed in a way it takes up all challenges faced by users, most of concerns will disappear.

For the time being, several challenges faced by older people still need to be considered, such as the ability to afford the right tools and services without extra-costs, the ability to use ICT devices properly or get support to learn how to use them to also maintain an active social and civic life through new modes of communication.”

What are the obstacles in ensuring digital empowerment of the older persons?

“Digital empowerment of older people would benefit from the achievement of a few basic principles. As a starting point, it should be reminded that everyone without distinction should have the opportunity to have equal access to the benefits of technologies. The basic principles highlighted by AGE Platform include accessibility, affordability of digital tools and the availability – especially of internet connection which is still a challenge essentially for those living in rural areas.”

Are there differences in terms of digital skills between different groups of older people: e.g. migrants, refugees, otherwise disadvantaged? How should different groups of older people be addressed in terms of digital empowerment?

“Among older people, several sub-groups may experience further difficulties due to several factors hindering their access to digitalisation. Beyond individual circumstances, the characteristics of certain groups may hinder older people access to digitalisation.

This is the case of, for example, persons with low-level income and low-level of education; persons in long-term care residential settings; persons with disabilities and people with high or complex support needs; migrants, refugees and asylum seekers; persons who live alone (for instance: widows) and/or do not have a support network to assist/introduce them in the use of technologies.”

What could be done to improve the ability of older persons to participate in the society in the digital era? On policy and on practitioner level?

“On policy level, states should adopt legislative and policy frameworks, as well as budgetary measures to ensure that technologies are not merely generally available but that all older persons – including disadvantaged groups – have real opportunities to access them. Universal access would require that digital tools and services are available at an affordable cost and offer financial assistance to those who need it.

There is also a shared responsibility by manufacturers, suppliers, public actors, older persons and civil society to provide accessible digital tools and services so we make sure digitalisation is not exclusive of anyone. Thus, we recommend that a user’s perspective is adopted from the very beginning of the development process of a new tool or service.

Concretely, several measures have already been implemented at the local level. There are associations and projects providing support to older persons to use new technologies. More and more cities are trying to develop tools to better access public services by paying attention to the needs of their older population.”

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