On May 17, the world marks Telecommunication and Information Society Day. This year, the theme centres around ‘Digital technologies for older persons and healthy ageing’. “Staying true to our purpose to drive a digital Malta where no one is left behind, means going beyond making the necessary infrastructure and technology available by ensuring that everyone can benefit equally from the digital revolution, including our senior citizens,” says Mandy Calleja, Head of Corporate Communications at GO.

Digital technologies are reshaping the way we work, rest, play and interact with others. At GO, we are hugely privileged to be in the business of enabling people’s lives, helping them connect to what matters most to them. We find our daily motivation from knowing that our continued investment in the infrastructure and the digital technologies so important for our countries’ competitive edge, continue to be essential enablers for personal, social, and economic development.

However, real impact will never be achieved if there are segments of the population who cannot actively engage in a digital society. In today’s article, I will focus on how to bridge technology, the products and services with the particular demands and requirements of an ageing population; how we can ensure that the most vulnerable are given every opportunity to engage in, and more importantly, contribute to, a digital society; and how GO is actively working towards leaving no one behind in the process.

Change is always hard to accept, but the world is changing. Digital technologies are challenging traditional processes, in some cases, completely replacing them. Anything requiring a visit to a brick-and-mortar outlet is now being replaced, or partially replaced with an online process, from passport renewals to online shopping, health checks and banking. Virtual concerts, online learning, remote working are now the new norm. There are some people who are truly excited by this new world and who easily embrace and adopt new practices, however there are others who find this shift completely daunting. The challenge lies in finding ways of helping everyone shift toward the new way of life.

Unarguably, being able to do everything you need from the comfort of your home, stay connected to those that matter most to you, enjoy the TV or online content that you love, manage your finances, book your next holiday, is simply remarkable. Avoiding queues of any sorts, getting things done simpler and faster gives us back a precious resource – time.

Technology really is enabling our lives. But there is a flip side.

While many of us digital natives are actively participating in a digital society, we are indirectly cutting off more vulnerable groups, and slowing pushing them into isolation. They are therefore not benefitting as much as they should from this digital revolution.

Reasons vary. Access, skills, hardware challenges, process design and pre-conceived ideas about technology all act as barriers.

Let’s start with access. Having access to infrastructure and the technology is the easy part. This is where we as a company have been investing heavily over the past years. We have been rolling out a True Fibre network, which will deliver better and faster internet speeds. Access, or lack thereof, could also be financial. We need to break down any financial barriers that may potentially exist that would stop the elder population from accessing technology. We have therefore partnered with Government in the Karta Anzjan scheme whereby we are offering special discounts to eligible individuals.

The availability of well-designed hardware however has to be an integral part of global efforts to ensure that the ageing population can actively engage with technology and continue to be active contributors to society and the community. Ultimately the aim is to ensure that they can overcome, or at best, manage, age related limitations, such as hearing, dexterity, or visual impairment.

Technology can undoubtedly enable older individuals to lead a more independent life. In fact, GO has invested in Connected Cares, the sole provider of telecare services in Malta. Connected Care offers electronic and mobile care solutions in order to enhance one’s lifestyle through independent living. Services range from “safe at home” devices to GPS trackers, mobile phones, and remote monitoring of the vital signs. This is an excellent example of how technology can offer peace of mind, both to the individual and to his/her loved ones and a great way of shifting from vulnerable, to the valuable.

If we get the hardware right, skilling becomes easier. The more barriers we eliminate, the easier it will be to convince and to skill the ageing groups to use technology for a better quality of life. There is no shortage of learning opportunities. Some are government or community-led, others are privately organised. This is an area that we definitely want to contribute to, whether it’s through purposely designed ‘how-to’ videos, leaflets, or in person contact in our retail outlets, as a company, we want to do our part to ensure that no one is left behind.

We do not have to depend on structured learning for our ageing community. We all have that one family member who is digitally challenged, who needs step by step guidance to master the latest app. Just take a minute and hand hold them through the process, the rewards will be greater than the effort.

The digital context overcomes physical and social isolation and loneliness and facilitates active participation in all aspects of today’s society. Therefore, by building inclusive digital environments, all users, including elderly persons, can adapt technology to their specific abilities and needs. It is all about choice. The choice to actively participate, in any shape or form, but it starts with us.

As telecommunication providers, our purpose and strategy should also account for products and services which contribute towards healthy, happy, and valuable ageing in a way that older persons can feel empowered to be good citizens and participants in their digital communities and societies, but more importantly for their lives to be better every day.

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