“We are not interested. My mother won’t be able to use the internet and there’s no point applying for her.” Our young volunteer was told in a rather curt voice. Although a little stunned and unsure if she would be disrespectfully overstaying her welcome, she continued to explain the government’s digital access scheme to the older woman whom we shall call Rose.
Our young volunteers have now knocked on 116 doors and spoken to 90 older persons encouraging them to utilize the free Wi-Fi connection we have installed near their homes. We have also assisted 22 of them to use their phone optimally and facilitated their participation in the government’s digital access programmes for seniors. This effort has given us a better appreciation of the barriers within and before older persons that hinder their ability to benefit from the technology that most of us take for granted.
When her son was out of earshot, Rose expressed that younger people like her son had little patience for her if she wanted to learn new things. As we spoke with others, we also learnt that older persons felt extremely indebted to their caregivers and were extremely hesitant to trouble them in any way. They imagined that it was not their place to ask for “more” than they have already been given as they believed that they were already a burden to others. Regardless of whether such a view is objectively true, this vulnerability is a barrier to a more fulfilling and satisfying life let alone technology adoption. Even when one lives with loved ones, one can feel alone and isolated.
Social work strives to lower if not remove barriers that impede social integration but do our programmes do so, or do they accentuate the barriers rooted in people’s lived experiences? After expressing much interest to pick up a new digital skill at the community centre, Liza offhandedly remarked that she hardly left her flat as mobility was a challenge and she would need a taxi to get somewhere. Sensing this as another barrier, our young volunteer offered to arrange a taxi. Half- embarrassed, Liza accepted but not before asking if she could bring her friends.
When the taxi arrived, we were glad to meet Liza’s friends, one of whom was 92 years old. Liza told us that her friends would not be making their way to the community centre if not for this opportunity to “learn together.” The thought of a 92-year-old lady receiving her first mobile phone got us smiling and we learnt something from this experience too.
Despite the availability of resources, many people are unable to take advantage to them because of many barriers that are invisible to the rest of us. When we lower barriers, the benefit goes beyond the one person it was intended for and often in ways we do not see or realise. Apart from the mutual support between Liza and her neighbours on display, Liza has without our asking, contributed to our outreach efforts too.
Wishing you the best of health, and peace of mind.
“It makes a difference, doesn’t it, whether we fence ourselves in, or whether we are fenced out by the barriers of others?” ― E.M Forster