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By OC Board Supervisor Lisa Bartlett

There is no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic impacted our lives in ways none of us could have imagined and disrupted our county’s systems for social support, communications, and health care. The pandemic also amplified an already existing need and highlighted the glaring disparities present in the older community when it comes to accessing technology.

For many older adults, struggling to come to terms with social distancing and residential confinement, the pandemic demonstrated that home-based internet and digital skills were rapidly becoming an essential lifeline. Ordering groceries and making doctor’s appointments online was challenging and continues to be an intimidating process for some seniors. Since the early days of the pandemic, older adults, particularly those that are high-risk, homebound or in residential care, have come to rely on access to technology in order to participate in telehealth appointments, stay connected with family and friends, and participate in virtual programs offered by senior centers.

In many cases, older adults, especially those on limited income, simply cannot afford to purchase a device, and internet connectivity packages often do not consider the needs and uses of this demographic.

To address these issues and in direct response to seniors’ concerns, I brought forward a proposal to the Board of Supervisors, with the support of my colleague, Supervisor Doug Chaffee, that would provide qualifying older adults with the resources necessary to actively engage in the digital world. Recently, the Board supported my proposal and approved a $2.4 million program funded by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and designed to help bridge the digital divide and support the goals outlined in the state’s Master Plan for Aging. The program, titled “Bridging the Digital Divide for Older Adults,” will enable qualifying older adults to apply for a loaner iPad that comes with a pre-paid data plan, training and technical support.

The personalized training and technical assistance will play a pivotal role in helping to bridge the digital divide, by tailoring programs to meet the specific needs of Orange County’s older adults. Several trainings will be offered in the form of online classes that engage older adults with interactive sessions personalized to their needs. Training will be offered in a variety of languages, including Spanish, Mandarin, Hindi and Vietnamese, in a safe, social and interactive learning environment that is specifically designed for older adults. In addition, classes are taught by older adults and kept small to ensure everyone can actively participate.

The beauty of this program is that it also enables older adults who may already have an iPad but need additional training, to participate in the personalized training program. The result will hopefully be a more tech-savvy, less lonely, more engaged, older adult population with increased access to virtual programs and services.

If you, or someone you know, may qualify for this program, please contact the county’s Office on Aging at 800.510.2020 or 714.480.6450. For more information on training and online classes, please visit getsetup.io/partner/oc. Coupon code: OC.

Lisa Bartlett sits on the Orange County Board of Supervisors, representing the 5th District. She was reelected in 2018.

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