Digital Disconnection

By Susanne Jones, Just Better Care Brisbane North and CBD

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.

Digital literacy and user capability is an important aspect of older Australians increasing their online presence yet research shows that many of those aged 65 or over are struggling to adapt to this new digital environment.

Fear of the unknown

One of the biggest barriers to getting seniors online is apprehension, with 75% 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 such as privacy settings, backing up files, safely downloading files, securing online transactions and using Wi-Fi safely.

While face-to-face learning is the preferred method of acquiring new skills, 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 to build skills and confidence, the free program 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 e-safety, 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 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.

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, 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.

‘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,’ said Jess.

‘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 

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