Digital literacy: Overcoming isolation in a connected world

The class settles in as Carroll Brabham prepares her lesson. It is a literacy class, but not for a spoken language. She looks out at her students, all of whom are older than she. It is a class on digital literacy, focused on teaching South Carolina seniors throughout the state.  

“Digital literacy is knowing how to communicate and interact digitally, whether it’s through email, virtual calls...across a variety of different devices,” said Brabham, digital literacy teacher for Palmetto Care Connections’ pilot project to teach seniors digital skills.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still going on, many people are isolated. In-person communication has been limited; with digital means of communication becoming the new normal. For the senior population it is especially difficult. 

“If you don't learn technology, you're gonna be left behind and a lot of folks are left behind now,” said Paul Dukes, a Columbia senior enrolled in the program. 

He is one of 40 seniors currently participating in the pilot program, which is led by the South Carolina Department on Aging (SCDOA), as well as PCC. Funded by the Rural Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), and SCDOA through the CARES Act, the project gives 100 tablets to seniors across five counties: Allendale, Barnwell, Clarendon, Lower Richland and Williamsburg. In addition to the tablet, the program provides the seniors with internet service. 

“One of the things we teach in this training is how to actually do a telehealth visit,” said Kathy Schwarting, Chief Executive Officer of Palmetto Care Connections. 

After surveying seniors in the class, PCC then identifies their healthcare providers. If telehealth is an option, then PCC makes it accessible on the tablet and walks seniors through a telehealth appointment. 

In recent years South Carolina has experienced what is known as a Grey Tsunami, or a Silver Tsunami: an influx of senior residents who have moved to retire and live in the state. The SCDOA is working with PCC to address issues of digital inclusion between these seniors and the younger generations. 

“Digital inclusion is really important because, I think, it is the key to connecting seniors who are socially isolated,” said Kay Hightower, senior consultant for outreach and partnership building for the SCDOA. “Social isolation is a huge problem for seniors and they connect through digital inclusion. It helps them connect to the internet; it helps them connect to the world.”