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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 July, 2003, 11:49 GMT 12:49 UK
'I help the aged get online'
People's stories in their own words

The IT industry is notoriously ageist, but one organisation is keen to recruit techie over-50s - Experience Corps, which encourages older people to share their skills. Volunteer Malcolm Felberg, 68, tells of his efforts to get elderly people connected.

Elderly woman at a computer
It's wonderful to see how modern technology can help older people. I'm part of a group called Proud Seniors which aims to help put 500 elderly people online in Croydon.

We help make sure they have the opportunity to use IT - mostly e-mail and surfing the net - to not only keep in touch with family and friends, but also social services, housing departments, the police and other organisations that can make their lives easier.

We go for people who very rarely get out, such as people who live in high-rise blocks. This is a way to help them feel more a part of the community.

I recently went back to visit an 87-year-old lady we'd taught to use a computer, and she said it had changed her life. Her family all live in Scotland, Australia and Canada, and she had previously had to make do with cards at Christmas and on her birthday.

Now every morning when she comes down, she turns the computer on and there's always an e-mail for her. It's not necessarily from her daughters or sons-in-law, but from her grandchildren, telling her what they did that day or just to say that they're thinking of her.

That computer has opened up her eyes, and it's spurred us on to expand this project.

Quick and easy

Although we started off giving people second-hand computers that we'd reconfigured, we've now switched to e-mail telephones.

It was very time-consuming sorting out the computers. Every one we got was different, so it was hard to make sure that each one would be suitable for a novice to use. And a lot of older people are very sceptical - you only have to mention the word computer and they moan that they'll never get to understand all that.

Worker at a keyboard
For many older people, computers were never part of their working life
So we looked for an alternative, and found these phones - you just pick up the handset, press two buttons and you're online. These do have limited surfing capacity, but can send and receive many e-mails a day.

What we ultimately want to do is encourage our beneficiaries to form some kind of club to share experiences and gather opinions.

There is a perception that computers are only for the young, a bit like the stereotype that everybody over 30 struggles to program a VCR correctly.

With computers, young people have grown up with them, but for many older people, computers were never part and parcel of their working life.

But the internet can give access to information - it's like having the village library and the New York library and every other library you can think of in your front room. We all say that we could not conceive that a machine could help us the way computers have.

For more information on Experience Corps, see Internet Links on right.

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

I am 80 and bought my computer about 20 months ago after several evening classes at the local college. I have contacts in many different countries, have done online courses with the U3A in Australia and use it in voluntary work of several kinds. It adds an extra dimension to life and my contemporaries who are so suspicious of it don't know what they're missing.
M Jackson, England

My widowed mother is 79 and lives alone. She has recently become the very proud owner of an iMac, a gift from my brother. She swore she would be the last person in England to have a computer, but she has found such a lot of pleasure in it. As well as e-mails and planning holidays and days out, she's now much more knowledgeable about health issues. She can listen to radio programmes she has missed, and she is better in herself than she had been for a long time.
Liz, England

I have suffered a series of ectomies to the extent that my legs don't work correctly anymore. So I have only two pastimes - my mobility scooter and my computer which I think I have finally conquered. I am 80+ and get help from my family, particularly grandchildren.
Arthur Hobson, England

My father is 70 and knows more about computers than most people. He is on broadband and we talk every day on the webcam, from Argentina to the UK. My mother-in-law is 67 and is on broadband. When older people lose the fear of computers, their experience in life helps them.
Paul Davies, Argentina

I have sorted my parents out with my old computer (they are in their 60s). You can set extra-large icons etc, but the mouse appears to be made for small and agile hands. I would be grateful to find out if larger, arthritis-friendly mice exist, as this would enable my parents to use the computer to its full potential.
Simon Bonsor, UK

You should contact AbilityNet (www.abilitynet.org.uk), a charity that advises on adaptive devices such as mouse relacements.
Andy Mabbett, UK

Simon, I have a wave keyboard with a built-in mouse, which is a touch pad. No more gripping a mouse, just a one finger touch gets me where I want to go.
Margaret, Canada

Simon - you can buy a rollerball mouse, a large design with a ball on the top that you roll around with your fingers. You can pick them up at PC superstores.
Leanne, UK

What about having one in nursing or care homes? It would be great to be able to email my mother-in-law for example; she has got to grips with a mobile phone for calls, but has limited dexterity for using texts.
Deborah Parr, England

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