Bridging the digital and age divide with computer classes at the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging

About half of PCA centers have computer classes, with hopes for more in the future.

Tamala Edwards Image
Thursday, June 22, 2023
Bridging the digital and age divide at PCA computer classes
A computer instructor at the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging is helping senior citizens embrace technology by walking them through the basics.

WEST PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Love them or hate them, computers are part of life - regardless of our age.

For seniors attending the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging classes, it's not just about navigating computer basics, but going further than they dreamed.

"The title bar tells you what? What window you are in," says computer instructor Bill Thompson.

Twice a week, upstairs at the Firehouse Active Adult Center on Haverford Avenue in West Philadelphia, Bill Thompson helps seniors explore technology.

"Now we're gonna go here," he says to a student, explaining a move with her mouse.

He works slowly, building their knowledge, and just as importantly - their confidence.

"It's like building a building. You build the what? The foundation. Then I can teach you anything," he explains to students just getting their digital feet wet.

Computer and tech classes are among the most popular offerings at the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging centers, because seniors want, and need, the skills for email, telehealth, monitoring their Medicare, Social Security, and medical benefits.

And with the surge in mailbox thefts, paying bills online is more secure than putting a letter in a mailbox, even at a post office. The Firehouse Center's director says students also learn about avoiding fraud and scams.

"We're constantly informing them, we're constantly repeating to them the types of scams that are out there," says Reuben Hoggard, MSW, Director, PCA Firehouse Older Adult Center.

And then there are seniors starting new careers.

"We give them training skills that they need to go back out into the workforce," says Hoggard.

The Center's classes cover smartphones, iPads and other tablets, and the wide world of apps. Bill credits his Dad, an electronics technician, for his life in technology.

"He said: 'You need to learn to type because computers are going to be the new thing'," Bill recalls.

He was reluctant to take typing, because he'd feel uncomfortable in the all-girl class. But it turns out his Dad's prediction was right on target.

Now, decades later, Bill has taught everyone from kids to corporate CEO's how to master their machines.

With people-savvy skills earned as a psychology major in college, he helps students not just get over their fears, but dive into computer apps, making those programs work for them.

And age is no barrier. Several students are in their 80s, one even 89-years-old.

Bill also has students in the advanced classes tackle Excel, a favorite program with accountants and analysts. The hook: household budgeting anyone can do.

"Because it takes away the fear of math, once you see how Excel really works," says Bill.

Bill says seniors should make the most of technology, making it work for them.

"The older you get, the more you're going to rely on the what? The technology. There's no getting out of that," he says.

About half of PCA centers have computer classes, with hopes for more in the future.

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