Program aims to bridge the digital divide among three community groups

Published 12/12/2022  BenitoLink Reporter, Robert Eliason

Free iPads are available to San Benito County residents who are 60 years or older, have disabilities or are family caregivers.

The Aging & Disability Resource Connection of San Benito County began distributing over 4,000 free iPads complete with data plans to people over 60, individuals living with a disability, and family caregivers through a new program sponsored by the California Department on Aging. The program aims to reduce the feelings of loneliness and isolation among the target groups and provide them with better access to resources and information.

The free iPads are being provided as part of an executive order issued in August 2020 by Gov. Gavin Newsom that is intended to improve download speeds within the state and bridge the digital divide for those who lack broadband access. 

The program is administered locally by the Aging & Disability Resource Connection of San Benito County. 

“The program was planned out during the pandemic to get the target groups more involved and connected,” said Program Coordinator Leanne Oliveira. “We started signing people up last summer, but it has just been activated. And I think that most people know someone who would qualify.” 

Priority is being given to older, low-income individuals as well as Indigenous or people of color who have the greatest need. However, no one will be excluded from the program just because they are not in one of these groups.

“The way it works is that people sign up with me, then I connect them with the state,” Oliveira said. “They get a phone call where they get asked questions to determine their eligibility and their level of need. If they qualify, they get their iPads.”

The screening questions are also designed to determine the applicant’s current level of computing skills and whether they already have internet access and a computer or tablet. If they qualify, the applicant receives a Generation 8 iPad with a free data plan. 

Anonymous usage data is gathered by the program to better understand how older adults use the device and track their challenges and successes. The program managers will also be able to monitor whether the device stops being used for significant amounts of time or is sold or given away.

Florence Yturralde of Tres Pinos has received her iPad and is eagerly awaiting the start of the lessons. With no previous experience with an Ipad and isolated from a family that does not live in the county, she was a model candidate.

“I don’t know if Leanne had to go through a lot of trouble to get it for me,” she said. “I didn’t have to do much besides waiting for it to arrive. I applied because everybody has one, and I wanted to know how to use it. I thought how neat it would be to use it to take pictures when I visit my family. And I would have something to see them on when they send me pictures.” 

Yturralde said she had some difficulties at first when turning the iPad off presented a challenge. But said she has been using Facebook a little and is looking forward to the start of instructional programs next month, which will be conducted by Cyber-Seniors, an online organization providing free support and training for senior citizens. 

The Cyber-Seniors site includes instructional videos on computer skills, one-on-one mentoring appointments and webinars on subjects besides computers, such as guided meditation and reducing senior health risks like dementia. While there will be special programs available for iPad recipients, all seniors are welcome to access the educational materials on the site without charge.

“With their iPads, the recipients will have access to an entire world of information and interaction,” Oliveira said. “They will not only learn basic computer skills, but they will be able to use their iPads to travel the world through virtual city tours, take yoga classes and expand their activities to make them feel more involved with the world around them.”

To apply for the program, contact Oliveira at (888) 637-6757.

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