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Program to Help Latino Seniors In Cyberspace

L.A. Garment & Citizen, News Report, Sam Hassan Posted: Mar 08, 2009

A recently launched nationwide program will aim to help elderly Latino/Americans get comfortable in cyberspace in an effort to overcome one of the widest gaps in the so-called "digital divide" between those who are able to access and use the Internet and others who are not.

Wanda Rodriguez-Mercado, a project coordinator at the Pasadena-based National Association for Hispanic Elderly, a non-profit group that helped test Generations on Line Espanol, said she expects the program to make a big difference in the lives of senior citizens.

"In working with Hispanic and Latino elders every day, I know the thrill of discovery for them and the disappointment when they know something is beyond their reach," Rodriguez-Mercado said. "I watched a woman in her 70's go from shy to confident when she was able to use the Internet and quickly become a mentor to others."

The program comes from Generations on Line, a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based non-profit organization that specializes in Internet literacy. Generations on Line Espanol offers Spanish-language software designed to guide older folks who are new to the Internet with large-type instructions on every screen. The program features "simple elder-friendly and culturally sensitive Spanish in a clear, uncluttered interface with familiar icons," according to representatives of the organization. They added that "help pages" guide users through basic applications, including free e-mail and links to useful information, with a variety of support materials that enable computer illiterate-seniors to navigate on their own and learn the basics without classes or cost.

Language barriers remain significant in terms of Internet usage, according to a recent study by the Washington, D.C.-based Pew Internet & American Life Project and Pew Hispanic Center. The study estimated that only 32 percent of Latino/American who mainly speak Spanish use the Internet. The total drops to only 17percent of elderly Latino/Americans who speak mainly Spanish, the study found.

"Reaching the Latino population is vitally important because the digital divide is far wider if you are older and Latino than if you are younger or non-Latino," said Tobey Dichter, founder of Generations on Line. "Our ability to offer this program in Spanish is a giant step to help one of America's most underserved populations."

V.J. Pappas, chief operating officer for Generation on Line, said that Armonk, New York-based computer giant IBM Corp. provided a grant that made it possible for the non-profit to translate its English-language programs into Spanish. He said the English-language version has been made available in more than 1,300 senior centers, retirement homes, and public libraries throughout the U.S., and will now be available to institutions that serve older Latino/Americans.

Organizations and institutions interested in obtaining the Spanish-language program can apply by visiting generationsonline.org/espanol on the Internet.

Sam Hassan is a writer for the L.A. Garment & Citizen.

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