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12 November 2020

Digital Disconnection

As age increases, digital inclusion tends to decline, but there is help at hand for those who may be lacking in confidence online.

As age increases, digital inclusion tends to decline, but there is help at hand for those who may be lacking in confidence online.
 
If recent events have taught us anything, it is the importance of accessible online communication.

While social distancing measures have amplified the requirement for us to be digitally savvy, there is ample evidence to suggest the transition by education, information, government and community groups to move greater parts of their services and utilities online began some time ago.

 
It is clear that digital literacy and user capability is an important aspect of older Australians increasing their online presence. However, research shows that many of those aged 65 or over are struggling to adapt to this new digital environment.
 
Acknowledging the issue
According to data collected by the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, 23 per cent of Australians aged between 50 and 69 have limited or no digital literacy. For those over 70, more than half are not online at all. The findings are supported by the Australian Digital Inclusion Index (ADII), which ranked Australians aged 65 years and over as Australia’s most digitally excluded age group.

 

Fear of the unknown

 
One of the biggest barriers to getting seniors online is apprehension, with 75 per cent of people in this age group concerned about their privacy online. This is not without reason. Australians aged 65 or over made more than 26,400 reports to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Scamwatch in 2018.
 
The peak body for senior advocacy, COTA, says moving government service delivery and communications online will increase the potential for scamming to target older Australians as email becomes the expected method of engagement and communication from government.

 

Building digital confidence

 
But the news isn’t all bad. The report, Understanding Digital Behaviours in Older Australians also concluded that many older Australians are interested in developing and acquiring new digital skills. Those interested were particularly motivated to upskill for security-related activities such as privacy settings, backing up files, safely downloading files, securing online transactions and using Wi-Fi safely.
 
In recognising that face-to-face learning is the preferred method of acquiring new skills due to the opportunities for hands-on mentoring and guidance, the Commonwealth government launched a $50 million program to improve the digital literacy and online safety of Australians aged 50 years and older.
 
Set up both to build skills and confidence, the free program content includes information about protecting personal information, using security settings on devices, identifying scams, conducting secure online transactions and connecting with others through social media safely.
 
Dedicated network partners provide support in the basics of getting online - including topics such as esafety, using email, connecting with family and friends using the internet, online shopping, online hobbies and managing your data.
 
Good Things Foundation manages the Be Connected program which, since its inception, has linked up with around 3,000 network partners across the country including community centres, libraries, men’s sheds, Indigenous community groups, disability organisations, employment service providers and non-English speaking community groups.
 
Good Things’ Jess Wilson says in a recent survey conducted with its network partners, Good Things found that 75 per cent had learners who lacked access to digital devices to use at home. To assist with this, the group were able to award $1 million worth of grants which have enabled the purchase of digital loan devices and data.
The initiative has enabled older Australians to become more independent and less reliant on family members, whilst also affording seniors the skills to connect with friends and relatives living elsewhere. They are also able to gain confidence and learn how to look out for scams.
 
As of June this year, 350,000 people have been supported through the program.
Jess says, to ensure more seniors have access to digital literacy tools, it’s important that digital literacy programs like Be Connected be allowed to continue for at least the next five years so we can help more people.
 
“We know there is more work to be done to support older Australians, people on low incomes and people looking to get back into the workforce to improve their digital skills over the coming years as the country recovers from the pandemic and adjusts to the new digital world.”

“COVID-19 has shown just how important it is for people to be digitally literate so that they can better connect with family and friends, maintain their independence, find work and access government support services online.”
 
Australian seniors or those living with disability who need to access support to learn digital skills free of charge should do so via:
• Be Connected website: www.beconnected.esafety.gov.au/
• Be Connected Helpline: 1300 795 897