Teaching Tucson Seniors Skills to Access the World at:
Armory Park Senior Center, 220 S. 5th Avenue
Udall Center, 7200 E Tanque Verde Road
Tucson Jewish Community Center, 3800 E. River Road
 
For more information call 520-721-7591

 

Cyber Seniors

People older than 50 are overcoming their fears of computers, finding, among other things that they allow them to stay in touch with distant family members.
Many swore they would never touch one. Others were frightened by them. Some went out of their way to avoid them.
But after they came around, many seniors say they couldn't live without their computers.
The numbers of grandmas and grandpas on the Internet is growing.
People older than 50 are the second-fastest-growing group on the Internet, trailing only 16- to 24-year-olds, according to a study last year by Nielsen Media Research and CommerceNet.
But the 50-and-older crowd accounts for only 17 percent of the people who use the Internet, the study found. And only 25 percent of people older than 60 own a computer, compared with 50 percent for the rest of the population, according to research by Microsoft and the American Society on Aging.
From the looks of it, those numbers will increase.
While computer classes used to be the domain of the young, many local classrooms are filling with seniors. Local PR maven Gladys Sarlat recently took a class in which she, at 75, was one of the youngest in the room.
The classes are so popular, some have waiting lists extending well into next year.
Ed Maxwell, computer instructor and retired IBM systems analyst, guesses that more than 90 percent of the students in his non-credit computer class at Pima Community College are older than 60. And in his PCC credit classes, about 20 percent are seniors.
"I'm getting more and more seniors," said Maxwell, who has been teaching at PCC since '89. "I don't ask their ages, but I'd say the majority are over 60 and only one would be under 50. It used to be that the majority were middle age or younger."
Maxwell also volunteers his computer expertise at a handful of non-profit organizations including the Shalom House and CALC, a national organization, which promotes computer use by seniors. CALC classes here are at Armory Park Senior Center at 220 S. Fifth Ave., and at Udall Park, 7200 E. Tanque Verde Road.
Demand for those classes has outstripped the supply of volunteer teachers, who are primarily IBM retirees.
Why do those older than 50 flock to classes and to computer stores to buy computers?
Andy Bartholomew, another volunteer at CALC, said the majority of seniors in his Tuesday morning classes feel pressure from children and grandchildren to go online for e-mail. Some have received a computer as a gift - even though they may not have had the slightest idea of how to turn one on. Others are just plain curious. Some still do it out of necessity.
Most start with one thing in common, Andy said: fear.
"They are petrified and don't even want to turn it on," he said. "Many try and overcome it. It's funny though, it's the men who pretend they aren't scared of it. The women admit it."
Don and Therese Hurley recently started taking the class at the Armory Senior Center. This comes after years of prompting from their three children.
"Our kids kept on wanting to get us one for Christmas," said Therese Hurley, 69. She realized that without one she was living in what her children considered the Stone Age. "I finally said yes after my son Michael (who lives in Boise, Idaho) said, 'Fine mom, I'll send you a stone slab and chisel, instead.' "
They got the computer - but not without some trepidation.
"I was afraid to press any buttons at first," said Don Hurley, 73. "But after the first couple of lessons, it's much easier and not as scary. It's really so much fun."
Dorothea Degen, 76, also is having fun negotiating cyberspace. Instead of feeling isolated, Degen, who can spend up to four hours a night on the computer, is connected to the world.
"It's wonderful, there's so much information out there and good entertainment. It really keeps your brain going," said Degen, who now e-mails her friends across the country, including her two young great god-children in Hampshire, Ill. "I send people funny cards with music."
Degen also scans photographs and sends them to her loved ones.
Pat Hardel, 68, learned to use a computer to stay connected with her scattered family.
"I e-mail my sister in Boston once a day and my daughter, who is an RN, will be a traveling nurse," said Hardel, who calls herself an "e-mail nut."
"It's super to be able to be connected to the entire world."
Sue Southern, 75, has what she calls a "love-hate relationship" with her computer.
"I love it, but sometime when it freezes or it says I have a fatal error, I'd shoot the screen if I had a gun," said Southern, who sits at her computer every morning as part of her morning ritual. "But if it broke, I don't know what I'd do. I guess I'd read more."
Since she got the computer, though, it's been a lot easier for one of Southern's sons, Cary Southern, who lives in Florida, to buy her birthday gifts.
"Before he used to send me china and other things and that was fine," said Southern. "Now I get a fax modem, new hard drive and computer programs. Something I really need."
For Gladys Sarlat, learning how to use a computer became a necessity.
"I was sitting around the kitchen at LP&G (a local advertising, marketing and public relations firm) and the younger crowd were talking about computers and for 15 minutes I had no idea what they were talking about," she said.
Gladys Sarlat recently completed a class at PCC. "Now, at least, I have a good idea what they are talking about, like e-mail."
The growth in seniors using computers is also something computer officials are keeping their eyes on.
Intel, the world's largest chipmaker has donated equipment for some computer training centers and has sponsored Web sites that cater to the elderly.
America Online, the nation's largest Internet provider, has boosted its content directed at seniors, forming partnerships with groups such as the American Association of Retired Persons.
IBM offers computer discounts to members of CALC and has donated computers in cities across the country, including Tucson.
Online auctioneer eBay has run print ads aimed at older customers and computer maker Gateway has also sponsored training seminars and run TV ads.
And Microsoft, the Redmond, Wash., software giant, announced this month that it's shipping 10,000 free videos to community groups to introduce seniors to computers. Microsoft also issued guidelines for businesses and Web site developers on how to make Internet sites more user friendly and accessible for seniors.
But sometimes, even more needs to be done.
Andy Bartholomew said, while many seniors are motivated, some have a hard time using the equipment because of Parkinson's disease or arthritis.
"Sometimes it's hard for them to see the screen or to click on the mouse," Andy said. "But we'll keep trying. We will try the ball type of mouse and hope that's better."

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