Access to digital technology – tackling the barriers for older people living in rural areas.

The Centre for Ageing Better and the Good Things Foundation have published a new report on digital access.

It shows that we need to think differently about digital inclusion policy and practise if we are going to reach those older people who most need practical help and encouragement around digital access.

Across the UK there are 4.8 million people aged over 55 who do not use digital technology, but this includes both people who are happy to get digital access through other people, such as relatives and workers they trust, and those who do not have this option. This second group of older people are typically more isolated in other ways that makes their need for on-line information, services and social contacts even greater. They are the people who most need support to get access to the services and contacts that could bring many benefits to their wellbeing and quality of life.

An additional challenge that we’re hearing through the Rural Wisdom project is the patchy broadband coverage in rural areas. This is limiting digital access for people of all ages and for the local businesses that older people rely on. It means that public services – and even the on-line information and advice services to help people get access to public services – are not reaching many of the people who most need this support.

Digital connectivity in rural areas is one of the top issues identified by Scottish Rural Action and others looking at what makes a difference for people living in rural areas and for the rural economy.

Those of us who are part of the wider Rural Wisdom project are seeing 2 messages here.

1. People looking at digital connections for older people need to remember those living in rural areas and the additional barriers there.

2. People working on the digital connections for rural areas need to remember that there is then more work to be done to bring the benefits to all older people living in those rural communities

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