This past week, the Mass. Healthy Aging Collaborative was pleased to present a statewide perspective on older adults and digital equity to the Massachusetts Broadband Equity Commission.
MHAC is among many organizations and stakeholders that have labeled technology as a social determinant of health, since the pandemic elevated the importance and use of technology, especially among older adults.
In its presentation, the Collaborative defined age and dementia friendly communities and how “technology” has been added to a framework for the movement that cities, towns and regions can use to organize and guide their work.
MHAC shared that internet usage among older adults is embedded in the Healthy Aging Data Report and Community Profiles and, while the data predates the pandemic, it can provide an idea of broadband disparity between communities.
Also included was MHAC’s involvement with several reports that highlight the importance of ensuring older adults have access to broadband, devices and skill-building support. This includes the FSG report supported by the Tufts Health Plan Foundation that analyzed how communities innovated to support older adults during the pandemic. That report concluded, among other things, that older adults and their families who had access to technology were able to seek out a wider array of information, services, and social connections more quickly, and organizations were able to reach them more effectively. A lack of technology was a significant barrier.
A report from The Alliance for Digital Equity, a group based in and focused on the Pioneer Valley and that includes MHAC as a member, was also mentioned as a great example of how the issue of digital equity can and should be framed. That report relays several examples of councils on aging, aging service access points, and age-and dementia friendly communities that supported tech use among older adults.
After some other examples and case studies, MHAC concluded with a recommendation to the commission to support partnerships and collaboration between councils on aging, libraries, schools, public housing, local government, healthcare, faith communities and community-based orgs to address awareness, broadband access, device access, and literacy. Since older adults are involved in every aspect of community life, only a community-wide approach will be effective and inclusive of people of all ages.
The commission was originally named the Telecom Access Commission when it was created in the most recent state budget with a mission to “study equity and access to telecommunications services, including but not limited to broadband internet, for students and families in the commonwealth and to make recommendations to address inequity and the digital divide for students and families with limited access to telecommunications services.” While students were a focus of community-based pandemic response, the commission appears to be taking a wider view through the term “families.”