There are some myths and general misperceptions about senior adults and tech usage that we’d like to bust. Every demographic and population segment in your community is important, and you likely have citizen engagement strategies in place to target each a little differently. If you think, however, that Millennials are your only demographic of citizens looking you up on social media, or that only soccer Moms are looking to register for parks and rec activities online, you may be surprised to know that older adults are also using technology to find information, seek out services, and connect with their community. Still not convinced? Read on and prepare to be enlightened.
Myth: Seniors don’t spend time online.
Fact: Roughly two-thirds of adults ages 65 and older go online, and half have broadband Internet service at home. Among those Internet users, 75% report going online on a daily basis, and nearly one-in-ten go online “almost constantly" (source).
Myth: Senior adults do not own smartphones.
Fact: Around four-in-ten adults ages 65 and older now report owning smartphones, up from just 18% in 2013 (source).
Myth: Seniors aren’t on social media.
Fact: 34% of seniors report using social media, a 7 percent increase since 2013, and the numbers are climbing. Most seniors who use social media engage regularly. In fact, 70% of older adults who use Facebook indicate that they log in to the service on a daily basis (source).
Myth: Seniors are more likely to own an e-reader than a tablet.
Fact: 32% of seniors say they own tablet computers, while only 19% report owning e-readers. These figures represent a double-digit increase in tablet ownership since 2013, while e-reader ownership has stayed largely unchanged over that time period (source).
Myth: Senior adults only seek customer service resources in person or by phone.
Fact: The seniors in your community are looking to obtain access to convenient municipal services, such as paying bills, reserving facilities, and signing up for classes, online. When Denton, Texas implemented the CivicRec® parks and recreation management software, they noted that the seniors in their community were among the most engaged with the new platform.
“Even our seniors are using the system,” said Caroline Seward, CPRP, City of Denton Parks and Recreation Program Area Manager. “We wanted to ensure we chose a system that would work for all our customers. So far, our senior population is one of our most active populations using the software.” (Click here to read the full story about Denton, TX's use of CivicRec)
Why the shift to a more digitally connected lifestyle for seniors? In part, it’s due to the overall graying of America. A record 46 million seniors live in the United States today, and those 65 and older account for 15 percent of the population and growing. It’s estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau that by 2050, 22 percent of Americans will be 65 or older.
What this shift means for local governments, is that now is the time to start incorporating seniors into outreach efforts that aim to promote digital self-service offerings as senior use of technology is only expected to grow. For those seniors that are not using tech today, studies show that one of the biggest barriers to entry is simply confidence. Only 26% of Internet users age 65 or older say they feel very confident when using smartphones, computers, or other electronic devices. To help give older adults the confidence they need, and to encourage even more seniors to connect with your municipality via available digitally-based citizen engagement tools, consider these four tips:
Educate Seniors on Available Digital Services.
Around three-quarters of Americans ages 65 and up say the statement, “When I get a new electronic device, I usually need someone else to set it up or show me how to use it,” describes them either very (48%) or somewhat (25%) well (source). To give senior adults the instruction they need, hold educational training sessions at your local library a few times per year. Use the time to teach interested seniors how to navigate your municipal website and how to use some of your online citizen self-service features on both desktop and mobile.
Create Instruction Guides.
Data shows that once seniors are online, they engage at high levels with digital devices and content. Help them get started taking advantage of your community’s digital offerings by creating video and/or print tutorials with instructions for accessing the content of interest to seniors online.
Encourage Citizens to Sign Up for Emergency Mass Notifications.
In the event of a local disaster in your community, one of the most effective ways to communicate important information to citizens will be through digital communications such as emails, text messages, and via national emergency channels such as NOAA weather radios and the wireless emergency alert (WEA) system. If your community uses an emergency notification system that integrates with the Integrated Public Alert Warning System (IPAWS), you’ll benefit from reaching subscribers and non-subscribers through all available channels, including weather radios, text messages, voice messages, and digital signage.
If your mass notification system includes an interactive voice response (IVR) polling feature, it could help enable a potentially life-saving service for seniors who may need help evacuating during a local disaster. A simple text or phone poll that asks, “Do you need help evacuating? Push 1 for ‘yes’ and 2 for ‘no’" could help your community keep seniors and those with mobility challenges out of the way of danger in the days before or after an event.
To ensure the greatest ability to reach seniors in your community with potentially life-saving information and instructions, encourage seniors in your community to sign up for emergency alerts. Work with senior outreach groups in your area to provide information on the benefits of signing up for emergency notifications, and help seniors create accounts.
Make sure your local government website is accessible.
28% of seniors face physical challenges or live with disabilities that make it difficult to engage in various activities, which often includes the use electronic devices. To make sure your digital content is accessible to citizens—of any age—living with a disability, make sure it is optimized for use with assisted technology devices such as screen readers and braille keyboards. Click below for more information on ensuring your website is compliant with requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).