Metro seniors put in effort as pandemic forces them to transition to tech

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As more meetings become virtual, many doctor visits are now going tele-health. That means seniors are finding themselves more reliant than ever on computers.

It’s a population already often behind the curve in terms of technology, and they’re now feeling the strain more because of COVID-19.

Helping seniors even more during the pandemic is important to the people who make up the Urban League of Greater Kansas City.

“They do all the grown things that you do, but there’s just one little area in their lives that they’ve just got this, it’s a barrier,” Lynn Miller said.

She brought her mother, Barbara Flowers, to Spectrum Digital Academy, a computer lab inside the Urban League of Greater Kansas City. 

Flowers is an 89-year-old retired nurse who has her own iPhone and iPad, though the transition to technology is a work in progress.

“She has nothing in her past to associate these terms with, words like ‘icon,'” Miller said.

The pair sat side-by-side Tuesday morning, reviewing highlights from a community Zoom call earlier in the morning.

“So everything I put in the computer has the same format, am I right?” Flowers asked.

Her daughter’s answered prompted a deep sigh. Miller told her, “It basically has the same format, but they’ll have different passcodes and different ID numbers.”

The frustration is shared by others in a generation who grew up writing on paper, reading physical books and using ink pens.

“Just because we’re old, doesn’t mean that we’re not smart; and just because we’re not smart by your standards, doesn’t make us dumb,” Jim Nunnelly said.

Nunnelly, a senior himself, has spent some of his free time during the pandemic both teaching tech and exposing others to something he recognizes as a bigger, underlying issue.

“The biggest problem that we have in dealing with population is the erroneous assumptions that we make about that population,” he said. “Particularly African Americans, [others] make the assumption that we are illiterate. That presumption gets in the way of the delivery of care. We’re not only literate, but we want to be in line with and up-to-date with everything around, including technology.”

Nunnelly is working with others his age, in terms of both technology and health education, like a Diabetes Expo call he was on last week.

“We reached out to senior citizens, who are the most presumed-illiterate, and said, ‘Get in this. Learn how to do Zoom,'” he said. “We were elderly and African American and senior citizens as well, and so we enjoyed it as much as anybody.”

Nunnelly’s wife Janice has also taken classes at Digital Spectrum Academy.

“I’ve actually learned how to text,” she said with a laugh. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to do that!”

She said a nudge from her older sister helped, too.

“My sister is deaf, and she’s the one that really kind of made me learn how to text. She said, ‘I’m deaf. I can’t hear or speak. I have to use sign language. What’s your excuse?’”

One of the things Janice liked most about the learning experience was her teacher, Jaqua Wilkins.

“The one thing that this young lady does is she takes her time and she goes slow enough that you don’t feel the pressure of learning something, doing different,” she said of Wilkins.

Teaching technology to seniors is only one part of the many things Wilkins does at the Urban League of Greater Kansas City.

“It’s just the reward of seeing someone light up and get it, right?” she said.

Through a grant from Spectrum, Wilkins is able to both teach in-person at the Digital Academy, as well as travel around the city for one-on-one meetings.

“I do basic computer classes for seniors and families. I also do credit repair bootcamp and help people learn how to use technology to help enhance their lives, whether it be for texting or Facebook reconnecting with people, also with Zoom,” she said.

“I even help people set up a Zoom account for themselves so they can conduct their own family reunions during the summer.”

The Urban League said its seeing more people with need during the pandemic, but the outreach hasn’t stopped.

“What we found is that people either don’t have access to the devices or the hot spots, so we went out and we bought more devices for our clients and our workforce development too,” Wilkins said. “We help people do online banking, pay their bills online, anything they can do technology, we teach them here at the Urban League.”

“Our Urban League computer lab is sponsored by Burns and McDonnell and our Spectrum digital grant,” Wilkins continued. “We want to help remove any barriers that will help them successful and make them successful.”

She also introduced FOX4 to what she calls one of her greatest successes, a student-turned-teacher.

“Mr. Charles, he came to me. He didn’t have computer skills,” she said. “He worked general labor, and now, he’s teaching the basic computer skills class here at the Urban League to seniors, and so that it what’s so rewarding about it.”

Davis Sr. understands computers now, but it wasn’t easy for him.

“I didn’t have a clue. I was one of those finger-picking computer operators,” he said laughing, as he plucked away at the keyboard with his index fingers. 

The senior committed to the learning process, and now he’s an instructor at the Spectrum Digital Academy.

“He’s coaching on Zoom now to our students, so Mr. Charles has come a long way,” Wilkins said. 

“The computer is helpful. It’s not hurtful. It’s not harmful to them as long as they understand each component and how it operates,” Davis Sr. said. 

Nunnelly said he’ll continue to use his time connecting people in need with available resources already established in the community. You can reach him at 816-695-4200.

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