By Linda Badger
Many residents in the Richmond District are seniors struggling to keep up in an increasingly digital world. Swiping and tapping and two-step verification may sound more like dance moves than tech terms.
Although the “digital divide” between the generations has been narrowing over the last decade, the Pew Research Institute found that only 75% of seniors, compared to 99% of young adults, say that they use the internet. With so many businesses and government agencies moving online – just try to find a phone number these days – this means a lot of people are being left behind. Seniors would obviously benefit greatly from the convenience of online shopping, electronic communications, ridesharing apps, and telehealth, but all of this is inaccessible to someone who doesn’t know how to use their smartphone or tablet, or who feels unsafe online.
Happily, Tech Squad is here to help. Tech Squad offers free technical support and training to older adults and adults with disabilities who are San Francisco residents, providing in-person sessions in the Richmond and Sunset districts. The program is run by the Felton Institute, a nonprofit, nonsectarian social service provider serving San Francisco since 1899. Edith Yamanoha, the program director and Richmond resident, has been leading the Tech Squad since January 2021, when she saw a growing need for seniors and others to connect online. As a result of the pandemic, seniors in particular had become increasingly isolated in their homes; they needed online access to apply for crucial medical and social services and to stay in touch with their friends, families and church communities.
Tech Squad holds its “office hours” each month at various locations throughout the west side in libraries and community centers. Residents are encouraged to bring their phones, tablets or computers, and tech-savvy staff and volunteers from the community are on hand to troubleshoot. The Richmond’s own “genius bar,” Tech Squad volunteers are tech industry employees or retirees, computer enthusiasts and college students performing community service.
Tech Squad offers help in English as well as Mandarin and Cantonese and would love to have a volunteer who speaks Russian. Ka Lam Wong, tech training specialist, provides tech assistance to older adult learners who speak Cantonese and who account for more than 75% of Tech Squad clients.
Examples of questions brought to Tech Squad include how to make a call, how to access voicemail, how to send a link or photo over email or text, or how to access apps, such as the Muni bus schedule. A volunteer named Andrew, recently retired from a San Francisco tech company, recounted helping an attendee learn how to watch a basketball game on his phone, in landscape mode, and was especially gratified to teach another visitor to use Google translate to write to a relative in China. Many residents come to learn how to use Zoom or WeChat so they can stay connected socially and see the faces of their friends and family, even if they can’t visit in person.
In addition to one-on-one tech support, Tech Squad offers training sessions on common tech terms and how to use Zoom. In the future, Yamanoha hopes to offer ongoing training sessions on basic computer skills so that seniors can feel more confident using online resources and technology. She also plans to offer training on online safety. Seniors are especially vulnerable to online scams and identity theft because they are less familiar with technology – a problem that Tech Squad hopes to address.
If you are an older adult or an adult with disabilities, have questions about how to use your smartphone, tablet or computer, or just want to expand your knowledge of technology, look for the Tech Squad calendar in the Announcements sections in the Richmond Review and Sunset Beacon newspapers, at RichmondSunsetNews.com or posted at your local library.
If you are a tech savvy neighbor and can commit three to five weekday hours per month, inquire about joining Tech Squad to help your Richmond elders improve their computer and online skills. You are sure to meet some nice people while doing a good service for your neighbors.
To find out more, contact Tech Squad at 415-474-1558 or TechSquad@felton.org. For more information, go to https://felton.org/social-services/seniors/techsquad/.