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Stronger together – staying digitally connected

The coronavirus pandemic has forced us to find new ways to socially interact.

In years gone past we would most likely have picked up the phone or put pen to paper to speak with those important to us but with who we couldn’t physically interact.

Now however, a surge in video applications such as Skype, Google Hangouts, FaceTime and Zoom means we can see and hear each other at any time of our choosing while still maintaining our social distancing bubble.

Yet while most of us have ready access to such applications, the question needs to be asked about who is there to help those who may feel overwhelmed with the array of options on offer or who are unsure how to embrace the many opportunities they bring?

The Australian Digital Inclusion Index (ADII) measures which social groups benefit the most from digital connection, and which groups are being left behind based on issues such as access, affordability and digital ability. Its data reveals that Australia’s most digitally excluded are people in low income households, those aged 65 and over, people with a disability, people who did not complete secondary school, Indigenous Australians and people not in paid employment.

In recognising the benefits technology can provide to their clients, some home and community care organisations have already moved to offer free or low-cost programs to assist those who are struggling to navigate these technologies.

These include The Smith Family’s ‘Our Digital Access’ initiative which offers eligible families access to low cost internet and devices as well as technical support and the knowledge on how to make the most of the technology they have. Vision Australia also offers tailored training services on technology use and support, including training in the use of Skype and Facebook.

In addition, organisations such as the Lively organisation – which usually charges a small fee to provide in-home assistance to those seeking technical support – are now offering this service free of charge. Included in their COVID-19 special offer is the chance for eligible applicants to receive up to four hours of technology assistance to help recipients stay in touch with friends and family during this pandemic.

Aged care provider Amana Living has taken a slightly different approach. It has launched GenConnect, a program involving a partnership with local Anglican schools where students teach digital skills to seniors, with the ultimate goal of increasing their social connections and independence.

Another provider Umbrella Multicultural Community Care has tackled the issue by setting up a digital café of sorts, where older migrants are encouraged to attend their local community centre to learn how to better access the internet, purchase weekly groceries online and stay in touch with family and friends using Facebook or Skype.

For the foreseeable future, Australians will still be required to live behind closed doors so it’s important to continue to have positive social connections to help you improve and maintain good mental health.

As history shows, we’re stronger together so it’s important to ensure you maximise the various ways you can stay connected digitally – even when a global pandemic dictates that we must (temporarily at least) remain apart.

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