Woonsocket seniors to receive free iPads in new program

Woonsocket seniors to receive free iPads in new program

Barbara Waterman, executive director at Aging Well Inc., and Linda Paul, assistant executive director, stand in the empty dining room at the Woonsocket Senior Center. Since last spring, the group has run most of their programs online, but a new pilot program aims to connect more seniors by giving them free iPads. (Breeze photo by Lauren Clem)

WOONSOCKET – A group of 20 Woonsocket seniors are on track to receive free iPads as part of a new pilot program that aims to get older residents connected online.

The program, run by Aging Well Inc. in partnership with the state Office of Healthy Aging and Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, will help tackle the negative effects of the pandemic, especially for those who have been unable to connect virtually, according to Barbara Waterman, executive director of Aging Well.

“Of course, from our end at Aging Well, we know that a number of people through the pandemic have been really isolated, really depressed, and more so when they did not have access to technology,” she said.

Last year, Aging Well, which operates the Woonsocket Senior Center, was forced to move many of its programs online due to social distancing protocols. While some seniors enjoyed classes like baking and art from home using Zoom and YouTube, others were unable to participate due to a lack of devices or internet access.

“It was very, very disheartening to them because they felt left out,” said Linda Paul, assistant executive director.

Earlier this year, the Office of Healthy Aging completed a survey at Parkview Manor and found that many seniors were lacking online access. Though the Woonsocket Housing Authority property has Wi-Fi throughout the building, some seniors didn’t have the devices necessary to connect.

Seniors who participate will receive an iPad courtesy of the Woonsocket Senior Center along with training and support from the Cyber Seniors program at the University of Rhode Island. Waterman said the program is part of a pilot that will hopefully expand to additional residents in the future.

“It’s very exciting for us on a number of different levels. Obviously, it will open a whole new world for them, and in turn it really does fuel our mission in terms of educating people, and it’s brain health,” she said.

The program is part of the Office of Healthy Aging’s digiAGE initiative to get older adults online. With the help of a $25,000 grant from Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, the program is expected to help 200 residents statewide, many of them from communities hard hit by COVID-19.

“While the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the limitless potential of technology in connecting us to each other and to opportunity, it’s also magnified the deep and historic inequities that plague many communities,” Office of Healthy Aging Director Rosamaria Amoros Jones said in an announcement this week. “The internet is a basic tool of daily living today, yet many of our neighbors lack access to it.”

According to the Office of Healthy Aging, more than 25 percent of older adults in Rhode Island aren’t online. The Pew Research Center estimates 41 percent of Rhode Islanders over age 65 don’t have access to broadband internet, with the least usage among older adults in lower-income communities.

Paul said the group has already ordered the iPads but is still waiting for them to arrive due to the huge demand for online devices. They hope to begin distributing them to the first round of seniors by the end of the month.