Seniors home promotes Internet use and education

TORONTO – For Leana Ho, a senior citizen who lives in senior housing at a Toronto nursing home, knowing how to use a computer and the Internet is vital for her to stay connected with family and relatives overseas.

“The computer keeps me in touch with friends and relatives,” said Ho, who, along with her husband, has traveled extensively with friends and family in many countries. “If I have to phone them, it may not be convenient.”

Ho is one of 250 residents at the Yee Hong Centre for Geriatric Care – Scarborough Finch that now has access to a new computer lab that opened there this week. Another lab will open at the Centre’s Mississauga location later this fall.

The Yee Hong Senior Computer Lab will allow seniors to surf the Internet, Instant Message friends and family and learn to blog. “Yee Hong” is a Chinese expression meaning good overall health in terms of kindness happiness and general contentment.

The lab has 22 computers that were donated by Renewed Computer Technology, is a not-for-profit organization that refurbishes donated computer equipment and provides software and training services to communities in Ontario. To date, it has distributed over 265,000 computers in the province.

Microsoft Canada provided additional software and curriculum through its Unlimited Potential (UP) grant program. Microsoft Canada has donated a quarter of a million dollars to the Yee Hong Centre over the past several years.

For this project, Microsoft Canada staff trained over 100 volunteer youth like Andy Yu, a Grade 12 student at Agincourt Collegiate Institute, on how to teach seniors to use the Internet, IM and how to read and publish blogs.

Yu said most seniors that he’s helped train so far were pretty comfortable using the computer.

“They want to be able to get in touch,” said Yu, who has also taught his own grandfather. “They’re pretty interested in the Internet.”

Dr. Joseph Wong, founder and chair of the Yee Hong Centre for Geriatric Care, who majored in computer engineering and computer science 30 years ago, said having youth and seniors work together helps to “bring the generation gap a lot closer.”

Wong added that “many seniors want to take the time to get to learn new technology.”

Owen Sagness, vice-president of online services group at Microsoft Canada, said the varying interest levels among seniors to learn about new technology are similar to that found in society.

“One category is very enthusiastic,” he said. “The next category is tentative.”

Sagness added that once the latter group starts using the technology, they become more comfortable with it. The third group, said Sagness, probably won’t adopt the new technology at all.

Toronto Mayor David Miller, who was also on hand for the ribbon cutting ceremony, said the lab is an example of how innovative the Yee Hong Centre can be.

“The lab contains a generational component,” Miller said. “Seniors can pass on their wisdom and guidance to all of us. Students will pass on their wisdom and guidance to seniors.”

For Leana Ho, keeping pace with technology not only allows her to communicate better with friends and relatives, it also benefits her mentally.

“It’s good to keep your mind active,” she said, adding that she wishes a blessing to the people who made the lab possible every time that they use it.

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