During his 88 years, Allan Healy has done everything from work with the British Service in East Africa to help Wollongong get a university.
Mr Healy has lived and worked around the globe but as he gets older he is finding it increasingly hard to stay up to speed and connected with the world on computer.
That is where Helen Hasan and her startup business at the iAccelerate facility at the University of Wollongong Innovation Campus is helping.
Living Connected has a team of passionate people helping senior citizens such as Mr Healy set up and use a computer at home. However he prefers bringing his laptop to drop-in sessions at iAccelerate that are proving popular with many people making it an outing via the Gong Shuttle.
“I’m at an age where I am forgetting so much I used to know. This has been very helpful. It’s an absolutely brilliant idea,” Mr Healy said.
The work Living Connected is doing at a minimal fee coincides with the release of a report by Telstra on digital inclusion. It reveals that older citizens are missing out on the benefits of the Internet. Many who remain living at home are becoming increasingly isolated as they age and the situation is more acute in regional communities.
Among those impressed by what Prof Hasan and others working with her are doing is Colleen Barker of Vita retail group’s philanthropic arm which has given $10,000 to help cover costs.
The Vita Foundation visited iAccelerate along with local Telstra managers this month.
Mrs Barker said she nominated the program to receive a Vita Foundation grant after working with Prof Hasan’s team to put into practice many of their ideas on how older people approach computers.
The Vita Foundation‘s Scott Phillipson arranged the grant saying the work is “very important for your community and we’re keen to help”.
Prof Hasan said the idea evolved from four years of research she and Dr Lois Burgess, from UOW’s Faculty of Business, had done on a voluntary basis at an IRT facility in Ulladulla. It looked into the benefits of digital literacy to the well-being of older people.
As a result the Living Connected service focuses on individual needs and not on the technology.
The first step involves working with a client to identify what is becoming difficult to do with age and then what sort of computer and ancillaries would best help them overcome those difficulties.
Participants are then then guided to setup and use a computer so they can remain connected and engaged in doing whatever it is that they want to do.
They are not left to fend for themselves but ongoing support is available through a group of local volunteers.
The Living Connected team has been working from iAccelerate after being accepted as a startup business late in 2016.
All members find great joy in helping someone learn to skype to family, surf the internet, do their own online banking and shopping and much more.
“Things we take for granted can be a great pleasure for them,” Prof Hasan said.
“A computer is a link to people when they can’t get out”.
Prof Hasan said thanks to the grant from the Vita Foundation and guidance from the iAccelerate business incubator, Living Connected can now grow as a not-for-profit, social business and ensure its sustainability.
The plan is to roll it out to other parts of the Illawarra, Shoalhaven and further down the South Coast.
Funding is also likely from NBN Co.
Wollongong Library is also interested in working with Living Connected.