In the months and days before she succumbed to cancer, Lydia Aysip found comfort in messaging her family in the Philippines using a tablet supplied by North York Women’s Centre.
Before 2020, Aysip rarely spoke to her family because the cost of long-distance calls was too expensive. Fortunately, we were able to supply her with Internet access, a free tablet and training on how to use it through NYWC’s Tech-savvy, Empowered Older Women’s project.
“Lydia lived by herself in Toronto and hadn’t talked to most of her family in the Philippines for more than 20 years,” says Ana Maria Sanches, the NYWC team member who led the project. “She was amazed and happy when she learned how to use the tablet and find relatives on Facebook. She got her family back virtually. She also used the tablet to attend yoga, bingo, NYWC programs and doctor’s appointments by Zoom.”
Connecting isolated older women with technology
The Tech-savvy, Empowered Older Women program started in June 2020 with support from The United Way and the Government of Canada’s New Horizons For Seniors Program. Today, the program – which supplies newcomer, refugee and racialized women residing in the York South-Weston area with mobile devices, Internet access and digital training and support – continues thanks to a donation from The Molson Foundation.
“The tablets and training help isolated seniors stay in touch with loved ones and access virtual services,” says NYWC executive director, Iris Fabbro. “Some of them had never touched a tablet in their life and had no idea where to start.”
While many of us take technology for granted, it can be life changing to experience it for the first time.
“When Lydia noticed the calculator on the tablet, she was so curious and asked what it was for,” says Sanches. “I explained that you could use the app to calculate without thinking, such as if you added up prices at the supermarket to know how much you would spend. I had never thought how a simple calculator could change someone’s life, but she was so impressed and used it when grocery shopping.”
Building confidence and relationships
Cindy Prince, a 70-year-old with diabetes, uses her tablet to find diabetic-friendly recipes, take part in virtual religious services, do online exercise classes and watch African movies.
“It kept me connected and helped with isolation during Covid,” says Price.
Many participants in The Tech-savvy, Empowered Older Women program also use the supplied tablets to access online programs from The North York Women’s Centre.
“The Virtual Women’s Lounge – which will resume in January 2023 – allowed them to connect with each other,” says Fabbro. “Sometimes they did workshops or exercise classes in the lounge, depending on the participants’ interests. It’s their online space and they decide what to do with it.”
As for Aysip, learning how to use the tablet boosted her confidence and helped her connect with family abroad right up until her final days.
“Lydia was lovely, strong and happy with her life, even when she was diagnosed with cancer,” says Sanches. “She was so grateful to NYWC for giving her the opportunity to learn about technology, which she never expected. Like Lydia, all the program participants got something good out of it.”
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