U-M’s Ginsberg Center is collaborating with Eastern Michigan University’s Engage@EMU office to launch a program aimed at bridging the intergenerational digital divide in Washtenaw County by helping older adults learn technology skills.

The Digital Connecting Corps will train students at both universities to be “tech coaches,” who will then teach older adults at Washtenaw County older-adult centers to use their smartphones, laptops and desktop computers.

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“When the team at Engage@EMU reached out about this idea, we were thrilled to collaborate to meet this community-identified need. This project fits well with our model of sustainable partnerships to build community capacity and provides Washtenaw older adults and students at both institutions with a unique intergenerational experience,” said Sara Saylor, assistant director for community engagement at the Ginsberg Center.

The coaches will work one-on-one with the participants in a virtual setting to assist them with technology in a variety of ways.

“The COVID-19 pandemic increased social isolation and lack of digital access and digital literacy amongst older adults in Washtenaw County drastically,” said Julie Vogl, project coordinator for Engage@EMU. “Before the Digital Connecting Corps, there was no countywide infrastructure or nonprofit focused on digital connection and literacy for older adults. The DDC begins to fill that void.”

Training sessions will be customizable based on the participant’s needs or interests and could include any aspect of learning to use technology, including learning how to send emails, download apps on their phone, set up and use a Facebook account, and more.

The program also will launch a tech support hotline this summer so that seniors can call to have a tech coach walk them through a shorter-term issue. These issues could include if their computer won’t turn on, if the font suddenly increases, etc.

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