Becoming a senior doesn’t mean spending the rest of your life on the proverbial seesaw. Most want to stay connected to the world, and today’s technology provides that advantage.
Three local seniors have found that taking technology classes has helped them in countless ways, including staying closer to family, being successful at their jobs, and maximizing their use of mobile phones for travel and leisure. Even better, the Dallas-Fort Worth area offers a wealth of courses at local senior centers, libraries, community colleges, assisted living facilities, and senior-serving organizations such as Senior Source and AARP.
Maybe making a TikTok video isn’t on the to-do list yet, but knowing how to text with friends, zoom in with family, or do a telemedicine visit with a doctor are great skills for all ages. Here’s how these Dallas-Fort Worth seniors are conquering uncharted territory and putting technology to work for them.
A Roadside Epiphany
Annie Roberson, 75, was driving down Harry Hines Boulevard one day and saw a sign for Senior Source, a Dallas nonprofit that provides a variety of services to area seniors (theseniorsource.org). “I turned around and walked inside. I found they were offering tech classes. I signed up and got a few friends to join me.
“I wasn’t prepared for this [new] technology, but at the same time I don’t want to be left behind. I want to learn,” she says. Roberson has lived in his West Dallas neighborhood for nearly two decades and works part-time as a community liaison worker at Disciple City Church in Dallas.
The first two classes she took focused on basic technical security, avoiding scams and computer basics. Next on her list: learning Excel to help track bills, mastering PowerPoint, and winning over Publisher so she can design the church’s quarterly newsletter.
Roberson says she used to have a Dell computer, but recently switched to a Mac. “It really helps to practice,” she says. She also switched to an iPhone, which she learned to use thanks to her 43-year-old daughter who suggested she get one.
“During the pandemic, it was handy to have Zoom technology,” says Roberson. This not only kept her in touch with her family, but was also helpful for her Bible study group of 10 women. “It was especially good for people who had mobility issues,” she says.
The main source also helped her with her Zoom skills, including looking good on video. “We learned that the best light for a Zoom session was natural light,” she says.
Roberson recently used his computer skills to help celebrate his brother’s 80th birthday on Zoom. His niece connected family members from Louisiana and Texas.
“Technology brings us together,” she says. “If you’re ready to learn, you’re halfway there.”
Technical comfort zone
Mary Higbie, 82, is an active senior. She is a trustee of the Irving Heritage Society, a museum guide for the Las Colinas Mustang Museum, and involved in Irving arts and history. She relies on an Android cell phone and her year-old Lenovo laptop with Windows 10 for her projects.
Higbie says she understands how reluctant older people are sometimes to try new technologies.
“Kids aren’t scared – they just dive in. They grew up with it,” she says. “But for us, you are afraid to do something to break it. Those of us who are more mature tend to be more cautious.
She benefited from computer classes at the Irving Public Library, including Excel and general computer classes. She notes that the Irving Heritage Center, the city’s senior center, also offers classes. “You can learn about technology in these courses. The more you use a computer, the more comfortable you feel.
Which technology you need is up to you.
“I’ve learned that when I ask a younger person what I need, they think about what they need,” she says. “I don’t need all the bells and whistles like children. They talk on iPhone watches and get their blood pressure. Some of us don’t want or need those extras. It’s a level of complexity that scares us.
Higbie also took a cell phone course offered by AARP. “They gave us each a phone” for use in class, she says. The instructor then guided all the participants through different exercises, teaching them various techniques.
Some of Higbie’s friends rely on their iPhones for more than just texting and can easily compose longer emails. ” I can not do that. The keyboard is so small, it would take me forever. But I know a lot of people use their cell phones for everything. When I watch Irving City Council meetings, I see all the speakers reading notes on their cell phones.
She sees that mobile boarding passes are handy for air travel and scannable tickets are a must for sports and entertainment.
“Computers have opened up a wealth of information for people,” says Higbie. “If you don’t learn computer skills, you miss a lot of opportunities.”
She says that in her job at the Irving Heritage Society, she sends a lot of emails. “The computer has become a necessity for communication these days.”
Higbie agrees with Roberson on Zoom’s popularity, especially during the pandemic. “Our family now has a Zoom every Sunday evening. There are about 15 of us. It keeps us connected,” she says.
She advises taking a course specifically designed for seniors. “Probably if someone learns new things, it helps to go to a group where the others are the same age. The questions will all be the same. That’s why I liked the AARP classes so much. “, she says.
Sandra Lopez, 55, worked as a medical assistant for 26 years but did not learn computers because the doctor she worked for only used paper. When the doctor cut her hours in 2019, she was fired.
Now what? The mother-of-four and grandmother-of-12 looked for other options and found computer lessons at Main Source.
She was comfortable with a cell phone, but “I didn’t even know how to turn on a computer,” she says. His grandchildren gave him some advice, “but then they would get angry with me. “You have to do it yourself, grandma. You have to learn yourself,” they said.
Now, Lopez says, “I can open a computer and do a search,” and her son recently bought her a laptop. “Even though I’m not an expert yet, I want to work and use my computer skills,” she says. And thanks to the courses she took, “I’m not afraid to open a computer.”
“I wasted time not learning the computer until now, but then again, my old job didn’t require it,” she says. And the fact that she is bilingual adds to her skills.
Now she has gained confidence in having a laptop and a cell phone. “Everyone needs both,” she says.
“Never too late to learn”
John Murphy joined Senior Source as an employment coach last year. The center offers free computer classes every two months, in person and online.
“We try to make sure our students stay current with the latest technology,” says Murphy. “There are hurdles and hurdles for older people when they first get started. That’s a lot of information to process.
“Even I sometimes have problems with technology,” says the 35-year-old. “But it’s never too late to learn.”
Lessons start with the basics like entering a password and hitting the send button. Often his students will push a button and then nervously ask, “What did I just do?”
Technology and not knowing how something works can be scary, says Murphy.
“Older people keep me on my toes,” he says. “They didn’t grow up with this technology. It is foreign territory. They are significantly more confident after taking a course. You walk away with more than you knew.