There are simple things that most people age 50 and under take for granted in their everyday life – like getting on the internet, leaving the house with only a smartphone and no cash, real time visits with friends and family who are miles away. These folks are confident that the digital world will empower them to do things which older folks never imagined could be done.
The recent CoVid pandemic has clearly demonstrated that the internet can be a source of frustration and, even worse, a threat to life for older citizens who in the best circumstances do not understand how helpful technology can be, and in the worst circumstances do not trust it at all. In 2021, with the support of the Montclair CoVid Task Force, the Montclair Business Improvement District and the NAACP Health Committee, Montclair Gateway to Aging in Place embarked upon its Gateway to Vaccination Campaign to help non-technical older residents obtain CoVid vaccinations. Building upon its own experience in community relations and data management, Gateway recruited a cadre of peer group volunteers and developed an alternative infrastructure to facilitate appointment enrollment, transportation to/from the County vaccination site and wellness checks to successfully obtain CoVid vaccinations for over 100 residents.
In the process, we learned that the digital divide impacting many of our older neighbors were open to learning, about technology especially from a trusted peer coach. We developed a new vision for empowering older residents in the use of technology. Thus, the current Gateway Campaign for Digital Equity was organized around a methodology of peer relationship designed to help skeptical older citizens fully participate in the digital universe and thereby broaden their access to better communication, better health, better education, and so much more.