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Digital literacy: overcoming isolation in a connected world

Kathy Schwarting instructing senior participant.
Kathy Schwarting instructing senior participant.

When the Covid-19 Pandemic hit, many people became isolated; but technology offered a way to stay connected. However, for many seniors, new technology is like a foreign language.

“If you don't learn technology, you're gonna be left behind and a lot of folks are left behind now,” said Paul Dukes, a senior living in Columbia.

Dukes enrolled in a digital literacy class offered by Palmetto Care Connections, a nonprofit telehealth network that works to connect healthcare providers to patients in rural communities through telehealth.

Funded by the Rural Local Initiatives Support Corporation, and the South Carolina Department on Aging through the CARES Act, the digital inclusion program gives 100 tablets to seniors across five counties: Allendale, Barnwell, Clarendon, Lower Richland and Williamsburg. The program provides the seniors with internet service and digital skills training.

Kathy Schwarting, chief executive officer of PCC, said in addition to teaching about telehealth, the classes also help seniors learn the basics of communicating through virtual calls, and email.

“(Seniors) love learning how to take pictures, they love learning how to do selfies,” Schwarting said. “Their eyes light up and they’re just so excited when they can do the things that we take for granted that everybody knows how to do, and they don’t.”

Kay Hightower, senior consultant for outreach and partnership building for the SCDOA, said digital inclusion is the key to connecting seniors who are socially isolated.

“By letting them connect with their device, it gets them to the outside world,” Hightower said. “It kind of reminds me of libraries in the olden days where you would say give a kid a book and it shows them the world; give a senior a tablet and it shows them the world.”

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