Addressing the Digital Divide Among Older Adults: Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services

Host Organization: Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services (SCES)

Program: Tech Support Coach Volunteer Program

Description: Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services (SCES) developed the Tech Support Coach Volunteer Program during the pandemic in response to clients’ requests for assistance with devices such as smart phones and tablets. The program pairs eligible older adults (Somerville and Cambridge residents who need help learning the basics of a device, Zoom, and/or email) with volunteer “tech coaches” who provide short-term assistance in person and over the phone. At minimum, a tech coach and older adult will have three sessions together (including phone calls), but it tends to be much more than this.

Resource Requirements: While older adults can receive help with any device, SCES also offers Kindle Fire tablets for eligible consumers. When clients are eligible for and interested in receiving a new Kindle Fire, the tech coach can optimize the tablet in advance, saving time and minimizing in-person contact. Program staff developed supporting resources for clients, including:

  • Visual how-to guides on email, basic internet terminology, how to use search engines, Zoom, MyChart, etc.
  • Websites where older adults can practice new skills
  • Local and national organizations offering online tech support
  • Online classes (exercise, social groups, etc.) offered by the COAs and other organizations

These resources are compiled in binders, which the tech coach gives to the older adult at their first meeting. The program also purchased two additional Kindle tablets for use by program volunteers to practice Zoom skills with clients. While the program does not offer internet, staff help clients to identify if they may already be paying for the service through their existing cable package or to apply for Comcast Internet Essentials if they might qualify.

Advice to Other Programs: “We have found that clients are primarily interested in using Zoom and email to reach family, friends, and other social groups. We thought our program was going to be integral in connecting clients for telehealth visits, but that has proved more challenging than we thought. There seem to be a lot of steps to use these apps that become barriers for new device users (such as required multifactor identification).”

Contact Information: Colleen Morrissey, Director of Volunteers & Special Projects,

colleen.morrissey@eldercare.org