Better telecom rules help older adults, too

Using a cell phone at a California beach to capture an image of a pier. (Photo: DCornelius, via Shutterstock)

All too often, I’m forced to spend time responding to faulty thinking and rebutting out-of-date assumptions about older adults in this state — the fastest growing segment of our diverse society.

The conventional wisdom, promoted by some advocacy groups when it suits their purposes, is that seniors are sad, helpless creatures who prefer to sit on the couch clutching their turntables and rotary phones, in front of black and white television sets, searching for reruns of Lawrence Welk.

The reality is that seniors want access to new technology.

The rotary phone in particular is described by these groups as the only gateway that the elderly want or are capable of managing. They can’t or won’t adjust to cheaper, faster or better technologies, they say.

These demeaning attitudes are far from true. I work with seniors of every economic and demographic sector across the state, and I know this is patronizing nonsense. Worse than that, it harms older adults by relegating then to second class citizens.

The truth is very different. The reality is that seniors want access to new technology. They are making the same tech transition as everyone else. They are doing so in droves.

According to the Pew Research Center, 77 percent of adults age 65 and over now have a cell phone. About 1,000 Californians are turning 65 every day and each of them wants the best that technology can provide. Nearly 90 percent of adults 50-plus own some type of mobile device. The fact is seniors are showing their consumer preferences, and we should listen.

The new technologies reduce the risk of isolation…one of the leading causes of abuse and neglect of the elderly population.

Some may tell you that plain-old-telephone landlines are the only way to connect to 911 in an emergency. But that’s just no longer true, and seniors know it. A landline is only useful if you can reach it – that’s why, according to researchers, 75 percent of 911 calls are now made from cell phones.

Older adults use broadband and VOIP connections like everyone else. These and other technologies allow us to connect with our friends, families and even our health providers when we can’t leave the house – using video conferencing, telemedicine applications and access to the world’s information and entertainment on the internet.

Whether it’s Skyping with grandchildren in Mexico, discussing medical advice from their doctor over a large screen, or playing fantasy sports, older Californians are as engaged as nearly every other demographic group in utilizing the fiber optic networks that bring more communication to their homes. And the new technologies reduce the risk of isolation…one of the leading causes of abuse and neglect of the elderly population.

Assembly Bill 2395, a bill authored by Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Silicon Valley), will promote the adoption of advanced affordable technologies among all Californians, including older adults, by managing the final stage of the transition from the Ma Bell rotary phone to the newest technologies changing our lives, over the coming years.

Don’t get me wrong: I have nothing against the past. I was born in 1945 and Mr. Low was born in 1983. Those were good years. But 2016 is even better. Let’s start acting like it.

Ed’s Note: Gary Passmore is vice president of the California Congress of Seniors.


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