Digital Device Pilot Reducing Social Isolation

Inclusion Melbourne – digital device pilot – reducing social isolation

The Council of the Aging (COTA) has identified age as a key factor for digital inequality in Australia. The barriers to digital access and literacy for elderly people were highlighted when COVID restrictions took hold in Australia and aged care facilities locked out all visitors.

Inclusion Melbourne’s Community Support team was concerned about the increase in social isolation that the lockdown created for many Community Visitor Scheme (CVS) Recipients. Of particular concern, was the limited access to a telephone those living in aged care had to keep in contact with loved ones.

Supported by a successful grant application from the Commonwealth Community Visitors scheme, the team began to research options for Recipients who were experiencing social isolation, to continue regular and meaningful social contact with family, friends, and their volunteers using digital technology.

Brisbane based aged care service Aurous Ltd, was the first port of call. Aurous have developed an App, specifically designed for elderly people unfamiliar with digital technology. Their App overlays the Skype App, integrating the functionality to make and receive video calls on Android tablets and phones. The app displays easy English large text and icons and simplifies actions.

Another service identified, was Innogreen Technologies based in Perth, the company provides digital technology to people with disabilities and the elderly. Specifically they provide Google Hub Nest Max and Mini devices that are ‘plug and play’ ready. They are dispatched to people across Australia and are customised to individual requirements remotely, including simplified instructions, training and IT support, to fully utilise all of the functions available, including making and receiving video call using voice commands or gestures.

Based on the research, the Community Support team decided to run a pilot project for one year and trial the two different types of digital devices – a Samsung Galaxy tablet using the Aurous Ltd App and the voice controlled Google Nest Hub Max device.

Four Samsung Galaxy tablets and four Google Nest Hub Max devices are currently being trialled by Recipients who live in different settings, including residential care and independently at home.

The team has had enthusiastic support and assistance from Recipients, their volunteers, support workers and Aurous Ltd and Innogreen Technologies.

There has been a steep learning curve for all involved in the trial. One volunteer provided a particular helping hand, by developing instructions and labelling a Samsung tablet in Mandarin for a Mandarin speaking Recipient couple with limited English.

Two months in, feedback has been very positive and volunteer recipients are connecting regularly, some independently and others with minimal support receiving video calls from family, friends and their volunteers. Some have taken the next step and started browsing the internet, with one volunteer recipient reporting delight at being able to access to the internet and not having to use her heavy encyclopaedia!

We are very optimistic that this pilot will demonstrate an increased sense of connectedness to the community and assist to break down the digital divide for elderly people in our community.