Older Jewish man in front of a computer

Tech talk

Although older people are still under represented amongst people who regularly use computers, a growing number are logging on and enjoying the benefits of the digital age. 

In its report entitled, Internet Access - Households and Individuals 2015, the Office for National Statistics found that 45% of people over the age of 65 used the Internet on a daily basis in 2015. In 2006, the number was only 9%. These trends can only be expected to continue as younger generations, which are already immersed in the world of computers, enter retirement. 

However, for the foreseeable future, older people hoping to take advantage of the many opportunities offered by modern technology for social and spiritual engagement will have particular needs that must be met before they can do so. The costs of some products can be a significant barrier among older people with limited savings. Declining vision and hand dexterity can make it difficult to use many popular devices that rely on these abilities. Some older people who have never before engaged with computers may feel apprehensive about having to learn an entirely new set of skills.

The growing number of older people who use computers has encouraged computer manufacturers and software developers to bring to market a diverse range of products that can help you, or an older person you know, to overcome these obstacles.

Why should I be a silver surfer?

The Internet offers a wealth of opportunities to stay connected both socially and spiritually. Whatever your interests and hobbies, it is highly likely that you will be able to find many online resources on your favourite topics where you will be able to make contact with other devotees. This section provides some food for thought on how you might take advantage of the web as you get older. 

From Facebook to LinkedIn and Twitter, social networking websites have a lot to offer older generations as well as younger ones. In recent years, Facebook has become very popular among older people as a way of keeping in contact with family and friends.  LinkedIn is a way of keeping in touch with old work colleagues and a potential source of new paid and voluntary opportunities. Ravelry is a social network group that is devoted to knitting, and BakeSpace allows you to exchange recipes and ideas. 

There are a handful of online services that will help you to connect with other people who are in their senior years. Tapestry is a social media platform that allows older people to keep in touch with their families and local communities using a simple and intuitive website layout to provide a single point of access to a range of web-based services such as email and Facebook. DropBy is a social networking website that brings together people who are over 60 years old.

Another online service is The Wireless radio station, which is run by the charity Age UK for older people. The service is available on the Internet and on digital radio and features music, celebrity interviews and expert advice. 

The Internet also provides many ways to stay in touch with the Jewish community and culture. The Jewish Chronicle, Jewish News, Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post are some of the popular news outlets that are available on the web. 

If you would like to explore the Jewish faith and its history more closely, the Jewish Virtual Library offers authoritative accounts of a vast array of subjects relevant to the past and present. Alternatively, for advice on the day-to-day aspects of Jewish practice, values and life, Chabad.org is a useful resource to keep on top of religious and spiritual matters. 

Getting online

There are a number of organisations across the UK that are committed to helping older people learn how to get the most out of computers. Here, we point to a number of national schemes, but there may be others in your local area. 

Digital Unite supports people to help them develop their computer skills. It does this in a variety of ways. Its website hosts an online community where you can access a range of factsheets on hundreds of computer-related topics, share your knowledge with others and ask questions.

The organisation has home based computer tuition, which is a network of trained tutors who will come to your home and help you with any problems you may be experiencing across a range of technologies including desktop computers, Apple Macs, laptops, tablets, smartphones and smart televisions. Lessons cost £40 per hour.

Digital Unite also organises Spring Online. This annual event aims to bring thousands of people into contact with computers for the first time. Libraries, community centres and other local public spaces host taster sessions during which you can try out the latest technologies.     

Another initiative that can help you become a silver surfer is the UK Online Centres Network. Managed by the Tinder Foundation, the network boasts around 5,000 local centres up and down the UK where partner organisations work to widen digital inclusion among the most socially excluded people in the country. Approximately 50 centres have been established to provide dedicated support through its Older People Network—set up to help people learn about computers and access the Internet within their communities. 

Like Digital Unite, the UK Online Centres Network had produced its own web page resources which you can access on its Learn My Way website. 

One final organisation that can help you become acquainted with the latest digital technology and services is Age UK. The charity has teamed up with local organisations to provide basic Computer training courses.

Easy to use software  

As an older person, you can choose from a range of different options that can help you take advantage of technology even if you feel you need extra support to do so. There are a number of solutions available on the market that offer simplified versions of popular devices and applications. 

Selecting the product that is most appropriate for you depends on a number of factors, the most important of which includes what you want to use it for. If you already have access to a desktop computer or tablet, there are a number of software applications that allow you to enhance the interface of your device.

Mindings is a software application that is designed to enable older people to share pictures, messages, calendar reminders and other content with family and friends. The onscreen menu is navigated by touch using a simple big button interface. You can use it on tablet devices as well as Mac and Windows based laptop and desktop computers. Mindings is a subscription based service, which means you are required to pay an annual fee of £99; there is a 30 day trial for new users.

Another service that can help you use the Internet to communicate with others when conventional menu systems and interfaces pose a challenge is PawPawMail. This is a US based email provider that provides a simplified menu system equipped with enlarged text and big buttons—complete with high contrast buttons to help you navigate the software if you have vision and dexterity problems. PawPawMail charges $8 per month or $65 per year. If you time it right, the service sometimes offers 10 day free trials. 

If you are interested in doing a bit more than email and instant messaging but still require an enhanced menu system, you might want to consider Eldy. Eldy is a software package that can be installed on any Windows, Mac or Linux computer, replacing the standard menu systems with a simple six button interface. It comes with a number of tailor made applications for you to use, offering access to email, web browsing, word processing, photo viewing software, a chat service and even weather forecasting. You can also talk to family and friends over the Internet telephone service Skype. The added bonus with Eldy is that it is completely free of charge.

User-friendly computers

If you don’t already own a computer and do not feel you would be comfortable using a mainstream device such as an iPad, there are a few purpose-built desktop computers and tablets which might be more suitable.

Breezie is a tablet computer developed by Age UK. It is based on a Samsung Galaxy tablet but comes with an easy to navigate interface and subscriptions to services that will support you to use it. Breezie comes with content and services that match your interests and hobbies. The device also lets you use simplified versions of popular software applications such as Skype. You can purchase it directly from Age UK for £108.

Synapptic is another provider of a range of tablet based devices with simpler interfaces that are particularly well equipped for low vision users. The devices’ easy to follow menus, large high contrast text and audio feedback can be customised to suit individual needs with options to change magnification, the colour scheme and the voice that reads any text aloud for you. Synapptic offers a number of entertainment options including the BBC iPlayer app, a music player and Freeview TV. Prices start from £340. 

If all you want is a quick and easy way to keep in touch with people you know, Simplicity ENVELOPE is a basic operating system that can be installed on a Windows based computer. It provides an intuitive and colourful menu to access email, the Internet, word processing and photo organisation software. The software only version, which can be installed on a computer you already own, is £59.95; the pre-installed desktop, laptop and all-in-one touchscreen editions are somewhat more expensive. 

Finally, you might wish to do away with the hassle of email and web browsing entirely and just exploit the marvels of modern technology by adding a visual dimension to your phone calls. telyHD is a standalone camera that plugs into your television to enable you to make high quality video phone calls to anyone with a Skype account. As well as making phone calls, you can also share photos and video messages that can be picked up later. telyHD can be bought for prices starting from around £150.  

Simple mobile phones

Mobile phones have become one of the most widely used technologies in the world over the past two decades. However, their tiny buttons and small screens have prevented many potential beneficiaries from taking advantage of the convenience and potentially very powerful communication options that they offer. In recognition of these problems, mobile phone makers have designed phones with accessible handsets and specially tailored software, so you can use such technologies even if you do have problems with your sight or reduced dexterity.            

The technology section of the Royal National Institute for the Blind’s online shop offers a selection of the latest mobile phones that are adapted for people with visual impairments. This is a good place to start if you are unsure about the range of available options. 

If you are looking for a very basic phone that is tailored especially for you, the mobile phone company OwnFone makes customised mobiles that are very easy to operate. This means you can make calls only to the people you need to be in touch with. These phones are designed to be used by people who have no need for, or cannot, use a smartphone. You can design your own phone with pre-programmed numbers, pictures and colours and choose the style either online or at the company’s shop in London, where you can watch it being 3D printed. Handsets are priced from £40. 

An alternative to acquiring a specialised phone is to download an app that enhances your existing phone accessibility. The BIG Launcher app replaces the user interface of any phone powered by the Android 2.1 or higher operating system with a simple and easily navigable interface. It adds quick access to your favourite contacts which you can get to from either the main menu or home screen. It also features an SOS button which you can use to get help quickly if necessary. You can download the BIG Launcher app from the Google Store for £8.

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