Connecting Grandparents and Grandkids to the Internet
Recently, the San Antonio City Council approved a $191 million package designed to lessen the economic fallout from COVID-19 and tackle our city’s deep-rooted systemic poverty. As part of this package, the City Council allocated $27.3 million to provide broadband internet access to households, primarily in hopes of narrowing the homework gap.
The move to virtual schooling during COVID-19 has shed light on our city’s sharp digital divide, as well as the intricate web of issues associated with incidental homeschooling. According to recent estimates, more than 13 million children in the United States live with their grandparents, and approximately 2.5 million grandparents act as a primary caregiver for children in their home.
Now, many grandparents must shoulder the responsibility of helping their grandchildren through virtual school in the midst of a global pandemic. Yet only about 25% of older adults say they feel comfortable learning new technologies themselves, making it difficult for them to provide the kind of support they’d normally offer their grandchildren without a thought.
With this unanticipated responsibility in mind, we ought to consider the technology needs not only of students themselves, but of the grandparents who must assure their grandchildren can succeed in school online. Although in-person classes are slated to resume in September, the resurgence of COVID-19 in Texas and elsewhere throughout the country may make returning to schools impossible.
In this fast-evolving context, we would do well to lay a foundation by creating a system for providing technology resources specifically to older adults. As digital inclusion advocates, we should work together to ensure no-cost and affordable internet speeds and bandwidths are sufficient enough for multi-generational San Antonio households, where different family members are simultaneously online.
We also need to work with policy makers to implement pandemic era rules to end the practice of content blocking at public internet access locations, and through hotspots. Overblocking content, especially during a global pandemic, restricts access to the only safe space children and older adults have to what has now become our vecinos virtuales.
As Senior Planet San Antonio began developing online programs for seniors back in March, our team noticed that only a limited amount of resources was available to help older adults learn essential online programs like Google Drive, Gmail, Zoom, and others – programs that their grandchildren were using to complete their online schoolwork. When we launched our first of many ongoing Virtual Grandparenting classes, we offered a warm, inclusive, safe and supportive space for San Antonio seniors to learn these programs.
Recognizing that seniors who are not grandparents were also facing challenges in accessing technology, we also created a Home Internet Access class that allows older adults to call in via phone or Zoom to ask questions about how to set up home internet, find providers in their area, and negotiate affordable pricing depending on the package they need and want.
While hundreds of seniors who have taken advantage of classes like these are now more confident online, there are still thousands more whose lack of home internet has kept them isolated and ill-prepared to access additional resources. According to the National Council on Aging, 2.1 million older adults live on Supplemental Security Income, which averages just $435 each month. At-home broadband can be expensive, especially at quality streaming speeds, and most seniors cannot allocate such a large amount of their budget to internet access.
While the city’s recovery package is a much-needed start to narrow the digital divide, this is just the beginning. We must ensure that seniors and their needs are front-of-mind when it comes to programs for digital access, and we must work together as a community to share information on internet, technology and training options for older adults.
August 21 is World Senior Citizens Day, and we encourage you to observe by reaching out to the older adults in your life and community all month long. If they don’t have access to the internet, offer to help get them connected, so they can not only plug into the world online, but also continue the work they’ve always done – helping future generations succeed.
Connecting grandparents and grandkids to the internet is one small thing we can do to ensure we don’t further isolate the most vulnerable in our communities. To get started, call our free technology hotline at 210-504-4862.
DeAnne Cuellar is Texas State Director for Older Adults Technology Services (OATS).
We invite you to join DeAnne Cuellar and an expert cohort of panelists to the LSR 9th Annual Retiring with Dignity Summit on September 16-17th.
If you’d like to participate as a community partner, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
DeAnne Cuellar is a tech equity advocate and communications strategist from San Antonio, Texas. She is currently the Texas State Director of Older Adults Technology Services (OATS) and serves as Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s digital inclusion appointee to the City of San Antonio’s Innovation & Technology Committee.