South Carolina Department On Aging Seeks To Close Digital Divide With New Project

The isolation brought on by the pandemic has particularly affected seniors, leading the South Carolina Department on Aging (SCDOA) and Palmetto Care Connections (PCC) to seek ways to reduce the digital divide by teaching them necessary skills.

“Social isolation has been around for a long time, but COVID brought it to the forefront,” explained Connie Munn, SCDOA’s agency director.

SCDOA has created a project which will grant a total of 100 tablets to seniors across five counties in the region, along with 12 months of free broadband service from Verizon.

To encourage usage of the tablets, about 60 of the 100 seniors have received training, and all training is expected to be completed by the end of September 2021. PCC intends to provide ongoing support following the completion of training throughout the year of free service. The training is led by a digital literacy trainer using a curriculum designed for the seniors’ needs. The training begins with introductory lessons, such as how to use the tablet and set up an email address – leading to teaching the seniors how to access telehealth. The seniors are taught how to find a telehealth provider, schedule a telehealth appointment, and how something like a “virtual waiting room” works. The project has received very positive reviews from the seniors, with the two-day training extended to three days in response to participants’ requests.

Along with telehealth, the program has been tailored to support seniors’ interests, such as facilitating communication with friends and family and learning how to use social media platforms.

“We have a basic curriculum, but we’ll also teach them above and beyond that if they are interested,” stated PCC CEO Kathy Schwarting.

The project was funded by the Rural Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), and SCDOA through the CARES Act.