Somebody finally figured out the right way to engage older adults in technology. And I think it’s pretty cool.

By Susan Saldibar

Somebody finally figured out the right way to engage older adults in technology. And I think it’s pretty cool.

Steve Moran sat down recently to interview Tom Kamber, Executive Director of non-profit OATS (Older Adult Technology Services) as part of Steve’s Conversations series. First of all, it’s heartening to hear about an organization dedicated to helping older adults connect to each other and the world around them over the internet. But what I really like about OATS is their approach — treating older adults as adults; not wayward children who don’t know what they’re doing. When Steve asked (sort of tongue in cheek), “Aren’t seniors just tech averse?” Tom countered with, “Not true! They are just late adopters.” What a great way to put it. Very . . . adult.

OATS opened their first office in Manhattan back in 2004 when, according to Tom, most folks over 60 had never even used the internet. But over the last 14 years, it’s grown into a citywide and now a multi-state operation. What’s also cool about OATS is that older adults can just drop into their Senior Planet Exploration Center, in the Chelsea district, and get some low key (non-techie) instructions on using one of their desktops or iPads to access the internet. They’ll even help them set up email accounts, online shopping sites and anything else they want to do. And it’s free.

Older adults just want an “on-ramp” to the digital world. And why shouldn’t they?

“Most people will just say, ‘I want to use the computer,’” Tom tells Steve. “But what they really mean is that they want to join the digital world; they want an ‘on-ramp’”. What a great way to put it! And OATS is set up to do just that, usually starting them off on a full-sized 10-inch iPad, which Tom has found to be easier for older hands and fingers to hold and use.

Steve asked what people want to do once they connect online. “Primarily communications; email, sometimes texting, sometimes video chat if they want to see grandchildren or family members,” Tom says. “They also do a lot of shopping online, especially researching prices. They may buy local but want to make sure they’re getting a decent price. They also use their iPhones to access news outlets, CNN, Fox, etc., which is great from the perspective of knowing what’s going on in the world.”

And OATS conducts free training at their locations, offering classes on everything from internet, to email, online exercising, money management.

OATS could be a good fit for senior living communities just starting to introduce internet to residents.

But OATS is about much more than free internet classes in storefronts. They have programs and projects that take them all around the country, working with senior centers, libraries and other organizations and government sponsors to help them provide internet-based services to older adults. Now they are expanding their services to support senior living communities, offering affordable packages that they feel will bring added value to the residents.

Steve asked if Tom had any words of advice for senior living communities that want to provide residents with that connection to the “digital world”. He does. First, he recommends that you invest in some basic technology: iPads, laptops, etc. Locate them in a common area where they are easily seen and accessed. Make sure there is someone present (not a techie!) who understands how to work with older adults, preferably someone friendly and outgoing. If you get some interest, set up small classes of 10-12 people. “And call us. We’ll help,” he tells Steve. “We have programs and curriculum and can help with strategic support. And we’ll work within your budget.”

There’s more really interesting Q&A on the video, which you’ll enjoy and can watch below: