AARP Highlights Age-Friendly Work by Northern Hilltown Consortium in Mass.

Mar 27, 2024

The AARP Livable Communities team highlighted the Northern Hilltown Consortium on their website and newsletter. The seven-community collaboration is an Age-Friendly Region and has made great progress in addressing digital equity among older adults.

Brief case studies on “Strengthening Digital Equity in Rural Communities” were listed and included the Northern Hilltowns and other work in Maine and North Caroline. The Massachusetts-based work is copied below:

Northern Hilltowns Consortium of Councils on Aging (Massachusetts)

Identifying the Need: Although the Northern Hilltowns Consortium of Councils on Aging offered monthly in-person technology help and workshops in each of its seven rural communities in western Massachusetts, the nonprofit knew it wasn’t reaching all who needed assistance. So in 2023, a questionnaire was mailed to the area’s 3,500 residents age 60 or older with an addressed and stamped return envelope. Respondents could complete the survey online or deliver it in person at a Councils on Aging office.

Of the nearly 35 percent of the recipients who responded, 86 percent said they used technology daily for a range of activities and 33 percent confirmed using the internet for telehealth services.

The identified barriers among those reporting an infrequent use of web technology were cost, learning-related difficulties and safety concerns. Although most users said that they could get help from family or friends, half wanted to be more independent by learning more, with most wanting access to assistance by telephone, a drop-in center or through online training.

Using the survey findings, the consortium applied for and received a grant to provide drop-in center tech support in each town, access to online courses and videos, and training resources so community volunteers could provide technical assistance individually or by phone. The Western Massachusetts-based Alliance for Digital Equity is using the survey results to inform policy and give voice to rural older adults in Massachusetts’s statewide planning on broadband access and digital equity.