[Journalism Internship] Widening digital divide isolates the elderly

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[Journalism Internship] Widening digital divide isolates the elderly

New programs aim to bring older people into the high-tech fold  
Korea’s aging society has led to an expanding digital divide that has left some older people struggling to adapt to an increasingly digital society, a problem that has been exacerbated over the last two years as the Covid-19 pandemic has pushed more services online.  
To tackle this growing divide, the government and the private sector have both taken measures to help people adapt to life in a digitized society.  
Jeong Jeong-im, a 76-year-old living alone, says that she finds it difficult transfer money or read articles on her phone.  
People are learn how to use digital services through a program run by KT [JOONGANG PHOTO]

People are learn how to use digital services through a program run by KT [JOONGANG PHOTO]

“I don’t usually use my phone and only watch TV because it is hard for me to control,” Jeong said. “Because I am living alone, there is no one to teach me how to use the phone.  
“Sometimes I need to send money to others, but because I am not used to internet banking, I have to go to the bank every time. Besides, I love to listen to music when I work, but since I cannot use the cloud service, I always have to use YouTube and skip all the advertisements.”  
The digital drop-off is around the age of 55, according to a survey by the Ministry of Science and ICT last years. According to that survey, people over the age of 55 were judged as scoring 35.8 points for digital literacy, while people under the age of 55 scored 65.1.  
That score is lower than other vulnerable groups, with the lowest-in- come bracket scoring 60.5 percent, people with impairments scoring 49.1 percent and fishermen and farmers scoring 46 percent.  
There is a significant difference in the level of digitization between young and elderly people.  
According to a separate Science Ministry study, people in their 20 scored 125.4 percent on digital literacy, assuming that 100 percent is the average Korean. People over the age of 70 scored 46.6 percent. Overall, the percentage of people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s are similar, but the number drops of past 50.  
Korea is not alone in facing the digital divide. In fact, many other developed countries have been, and still are, suffering from a digital divide between young and older people.  
According to the Pew Research Center, 7 percent of adults who reside in the United States responded say that they do not use the internet.  
Within this 7 percent, 25 percent of those aged 65 or older said that they are “never going online”.  
A group of U.S. organizations has launched multiple programs aimed at enhancing internet adoption in under served areas. The number of adults aged 65 and older who responded that they “never go online” fell about 25 percent between 2000 and 2021.  
The digital divide has also become the top priority for the Korean government with the outbreak of Covid-19.  
Due to the quarantine pass system, vaccination history had to be certified in order to visit restaurants, cafes and senior welfare centers. Nonetheless, many older people were unfamiliar with smartphones and applications due to a lack of digital education.  
The Seoul Metropolitan Government announced a plan last month to expand its digital learning center. Education for people with impairments as well as the elderly will be expanded to all 25 autonomous districts in 2021.  
Seongdong District in eastern Seoul has expanded its “visiting smart classroom” program since November last year. The number of smart volunteer groups has increased from two to eight, and the places to be educated have been expanded to local senior citizens’ centers and community centers.  
It also provides a service that visits people’s homes directly with life support providers for elderly customized care services  
linked to the Seongdong Senior Welfare Center, allowing those with mobility difficulties to receive an education.  
In addition, the Seoul Digital Foundation released its “Old Age-Friendly Digital Accessibility Standard” for web developers to refer to when they design apps or websites. The “Old Age-Friendly Digital Accessibility Standard” is the first standard developed by the foundation in the country in 2020 for convenient digital accessibility for older people.  
Font sizes were increased to improve readability and the search function was moved to a more prominent location. At the bottom of the main screen, menus, announcements, schedules and video shortcuts, which are mainly visited by older people, are included.  
Alongside the government, private companies are also running different training programs designed to help older people learn how to use digital services. Samsung Electronics operates a “Smart Academy” for people who struggle with complex digital usage.  
The program allows people to practice sending pictures through messengers and use new delivery apps such as Baedal Minjok. This particular program is very popular among old- aged customers who are highly interested in technology but have a hard time figuring out how to use it.  
One particular place where older people struggle is at the bank. To ease the digital divide between the elderly and young people, companies try to teach customers how to use but also customize their machines.  
Since this was already a problem before Covid-19, Shinhan Bank opened the first digital customized branch for older people. Considering that the majority of clients visiting bank branches are older, Shinhan first installed a new queue kiosk machine that shows a bigger font size with simplified categories at a branch office in Sillim, southern Seoul.  
ATMs in Shinhan banks also use easier terms such as “send money” and “find money” with only four menus  
that are frequently used by their clients. Most significantly, Shinhan installed a new system that provides a “slow speech service” that talks 70 percent slower than other ATMs.
Besides these changes, Shinhan Bank also provides a class called “Senior Digital Finance Education,” in which bankers teach older people how to use the new customized ATM. 

BY HAN SO-MIN, HAN SO-EUN, LIM SEUNG-HOON AND LEE SI-HEON [smhan24@kis.ac, shlee24@kis.ac, sehan24@kis.ac, shlim23@kis.ac]
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