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Digital divide impacting the isolated LGBTQ elderly communities

elder digital divide
Posted at 12:03 PM, Jul 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-20 14:03:28-04

We've heard about the digital divide involving education and children during the pandemic, but there's another group also experiencing a communications gap. However, a nonprofit group that works to support LGBTQ elders says the divide and isolation in the community were made worse over the past year and a half.

Bill Meehan says the pandemic was a roller coaster that has seemingly no end.

“We found that doing a lot of stuff on Zoom was really good except that many people didn’t have the ability to go on Zoom because of lack of equipment or no connectivity,” Meehan said.

Meehan hasn't had trouble with connectivity, but he knows plenty of people within his community who have.

“Those that are without social networks. One of my neighbors is legally blind and speaks limited English. She has a son that visits once a week, but she has two birds and that’s her universe right now,” Meehan said.

SAGE, the world's largest and oldest organization that's dedicated to improving the lives of LGBTQ elders, is trying to lessen the digital divide.

“If they’re a person of color and of trans experience, how are they navigating through this complexity of social services? It’s very complicated and oftentimes access to the internet is a lifesaver for so many folks,” said Dr. David Vincent, chief program officer for SAGE. “LGBT older people are less likely to be partnered or have children, so 3 in 4 LGBT older people are concerned about not having enough support from their families or friends, four times less likely to have children, and two times as likely to be single and living alone.”

Dr. Vincent says lately they've joined forces with the Diverse Elders Coalition. The group of five agencies put a proposal together to collectively call on Congress to fight the disparities faced by older adults from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds, in addition to LGBTQ+ communities.

“Which is really about connecting people providing case management, providing technical assistance to aging providers, in order to best serve them,” explained Dr. Vincent. “Providing connection through cyber education and developing virtual programming.”

As for Bill Meehan, he's excited about the SAGE center that just opened in his building. He's started a book club and he's working within his LGBTQ community to alert people about the dangers of isolation.

“There’s 15 computers, so there will be opportunities for people who don’t have connectivity who don’t have computers in the building to go there and use the computer, and there will be classes on how to use the computer because for some people this will be the first introduction to electronic communications,” Meehan said.