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For Dallas seniors, lessons take fear factor out of tech

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DALLAS >> Becoming a senior doesn’t mean spending the rest of your life on the proverbial porch swing. Most want to stay connected to the world, and today’s technology offers that advantage.

Seniors have found that taking technology classes has helped them in innumerable ways, particularly to stay closer to family, succeed in their jobs and maximize their mobile phone use for travel and entertainment.

Maybe making a TikTok video isn’t on the bucket list — yet — but knowing how to text with friends, Zoom with family or have a telemedicine visit with a doctor are excellent skills for all ages. Here’s how these Dallas­-Fort Worth seniors are conquering unfamiliar territory and making technology work for them.

A roadside epiphany

Annie Roberson, 75, was driving one day and saw a sign for the Senior Source, Dallas’ nonprofit organization offering a variety of serv­ices to area seniors. “I turned the car around and went inside. I found out they offered technology classes. I signed up and brought a couple of friends to join me.”

“I wasn’t prepared for this (new) technology, but at the same time I don’t want to be left behind. I want to learn,” she said. Roberson has lived in her West Dallas neighborhood for nearly two decades and works part time as the community liaison at the Disciple City Church in Dallas.

The first two classes she took focused on basic tech safety, avoiding scams and computer basics. Next on her list: learning Excel to help keep track of bills, becoming proficient in PowerPoint and conquering Publisher so she can design the church’s quarterly newsletter.

Roberson said she had a Dell computer but recently switched to a Mac. “It really helps to practice,” she said. She also upgraded to an iPhone, which she is learning to use thanks to her 43-year-old daughter.

“During the pandemic it was handy to have Zoom technology,” Roberson said. It not only kept her connected to family, but was helpful for her Bible study group of 10 women. “It was especially great for folks who had mobility issues.”

The Senior Source also helped her learn Zoom, and Roberson used her skills recently to help celebrate her brother’s 80th birthday on Zoom, with family members from Louisiana and Texas.

“Technology brings us together,” she said. “If you are willing to learn, you are halfway there.”

Tech comfort zone

Mary Higbie, 82, is an active senior. She is administrator for the Irving Heritage Society, a museum guide for the Mustangs of Las Colinas Museum and is involved in the arts and history of Irving. She relies on an Android cellphone and her year-old Lenovo laptop with Windows 10 for projects.

Higbie said she understands how seniors are sometimes hesitant to try new technology.

“Kids are not afraid — they just plunge in. They grew up with it,” she said. “But for us, you are afraid you will do something to break it. Those of us who are more mature tend to be more cautious.”

She has benefited from computer classes at the Irving Public Library, including Excel and general computer classes. She said the Irving Heritage Center, the city’s senior center, also offers classes. “You can get comfortable with techno­logy in these classes. The more you use a computer, the more comfortable you get.”

Higbie also took a class on cellphones offered by AARP. The instructor walked everyone through different exercises, teaching them various techniques.

Some of Higbie’s friends rely on their iPhones for more than just texts and easily compose longer emails. “I can’t do that. The keyboard is so small, it would take me forever. But I know many people use their cellphones for everything.”

She sees that mobile boarding passes are handy for plane travel, and scannable tickets are de rigueur for sports and entertainment.

“Computers have opened up a wealth of information for people,” Higbie said. “If you don’t learn computer skills, you are missing out on many opportunities.”

She said that in her work at the heritage society, “the computer has become a necessity for communication these days.”

Higbie agreed with Roberson about the popularity of Zoom, particularly during the pandemic. “Our family now has a Zoom every Sunday night. There’s about 15 of us. It keeps us connected,” she said.

She advises taking a class specifically designed for seniors. “Probably if someone is learning new things, it is helpful to go to a group where the others are of similar age. The questions will all be the same. That’s why I liked the AARP classes so much,” she said.

‘Never too late to learn’

John Murphy joined Senior Source last year as an employment coach. The center offers free computer classes every two months, both in person and online.

“We try to make sure our students are staying current with the latest technology,” Murphy said. “There are obstacles and hurdles for seniors when they first get started. It’s a lot of info to process.”

The classes start with the basics, such as putting in a password and pressing the send button. Often- times his students will press a button and then ask nervously, “What did I just do?”

Technology and being unaware of how something works can be scary, he said.

“Even I have issues with technology sometimes,” the 35-year-old said. “But it’s never too late to learn.”

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