Changes resulting from the technological revolution in communications and
information are worthy of intense focus because of their implications on democratic values
and institutions. Among the concerns is a widening gap between the so-called information
rich and poor.
The policy questions surrounding the technology explosion can be discussed in
terms of three key factors: access, resources, and skills. The information revolution is
emerging as a major turning point in the economic, social, and cultural arenas, and unless
one has a sense of how the country as a whole or a community is moving with
respect to access and usage, one cannot label this technological movement a success. Some
early studies in the diffusion of computer technology have shown that income and education
are the most important variables in terms of computer ownership.
Persons age 55 and over in Seattle comprise about 22.5% of Seattle's 1990
population of about 519,000. Persons age 65 and over comprise about 15% of the total.
Recently, studies have begun to address particular gaps in usage: gender, age,
and race and ethnicity. To the extent that income and education determine participation in
computer technologies, it is likely that people of color will be disadvantaged because
they tend to have lower income and educational levels compared to whites. The particular
focus of this report is the age gap, although considerations of race, income and gender
are part of that picture.
How can electronics facilitate more productive and enjoyable later years of
life? As the communications revolution continues, will older individuals lose, in some
ways, their franchise as participatory citizens? Who is addressing these questions in
Seattle? What is the appropriate role of City government?
Purpose of this Report
This report provides recommendations for use of $35,000 from the Citizens
Literacy and Access Fund that was allocated for a Senior Project by the City Council in
August 1997. The report contains information that formed the basis of those
recommendations and provides a solid assessment of the topic of seniors and computer
technology in Seattle that may be useful for other projects.
Background, Goals of the Senior
Technology Literacy and Access Project
Based on the City of Seattle's observations about our society's increasing
reliance on computers and electronic services, and a growing awareness that many people in
Seattle did not understand or have access to computers or a way to learn how to use one,
the City Council in 1997 took initial steps to address the situation. Under the leadership
of Councilmember Tina Podlodowski, the City established a Citizens Literacy and Access
Fund for fiscal year 1997-98.
A Citizens Technology and Telecommunications Advisory Board (CTTAB) was charged
with identifying projects for use of Fund resources. A Senior Technology Literacy and
Access Project, proposed by CTTAB members Larry Berg, Janice Friedman, and Arthur Siegal,
was one of six projects recommended by the Advisory Board. The six projects were approved
by the City Council in August 1997. The Senior Project was allocated $40,000 ($10,000 for
1997 and $30,000 for 1998).
The CTTAB members who proposed the Senior Project formed a subcommittee of
CTTAB. With the assistance of the Mayor's Office for Senior Citizens and Seattle-King
County Aging and Disability Services (administered by the City of Seattle's Department of
Housing and Human Services), the group developed an initial proposal. The subcommittee
members then determined that more information was needed to make a well-informed and fair
decision. They allocated $5,000 of the Project funds for an assessment of opportunities
and needs and to generate options for the best approach for the Senior Project.
In January 1998, the CTTAB senior subcommittee, staff within the City's
Executive Services Department, and two consultants began work to quickly gather and
organize available information which would inform decisions on use of the remaining
$35,000 available for the Senior Project. Staff from the Mayor's Office for Senior
Citizens and Aging and Disability Services continued to participate in development of the
of Senior Technology and Literacy Project
The goals of the Senior Project reflect those areas of funding deemed
appropriate for use of City resources. The goals indicate a desire to use the funds
available to build long-term capacity or infrastructure, rather than support a specific
program. The goals are to allocate approximately $35,000 of City funds to a project or
- Builds capacity in the community for use of computers by seniors (for example,
training, helping connect existing resources, wiring existing sites, becoming more
competitive for future resources).
- Build a dialogue about seniors and computers, including possible uses of
computers and how computers affect seniors.
- Encourage senior groups to work together.
- Encourage seniors and those of other ages to work together.
- Reach seniors who currently have little access to or knowledge about computers.
As part of long-term goals to:
- Enhance quality of life.
- Enable seniors to connect and fully participate as community members.
- Enable seniors to make informed choices about computers and technology.
- Increase support among seniors for Seattle to be a leader in technology.
- Decrease gap between seniors' use of computers and that of other age groups.
To provide a basis for recommendations on use of the funds for the Senior
Project, the senior subcommittee of the Citizens Technology and Telecom-munications
Advisory Board, city staff, and two consultants (who came on board in early February) did
the following between January and mid-March 1998:
- Scanned local and national survey results to learn what seniors were reporting
directly about computer ownership and usage.
- Collected and analyzed information about the location and scope of computer
equipment, programs, and training in Seattle available to seniors.
- Compiled and analyzed demographic information about seniors in Seattle.
- Conducted and compiled the result of a survey of ten programs to gather in-depth
views about seniors and their use of computer technology.
- Researched local, regional, and national initiatives to demonstrate what is
currently being done to improve technology literacy and access among seniors.
- Organized and held an advisory forum of 19 people knowledgeable about seniors and
technology to seek their input and advice on use of the Senior Project funds.
- Synthesized results of the above steps.
- Developed recommendations for Project options, based on this synthesis.
The results of this assessment and recommendations are described in this report.
As with any assessment of people's beliefs, behavior, and preferences, the
analysis contained in this report represents a balance among the time and resources
allocated, the amount and type of information available, and keeping the scope of the
assessment commensurate with its uses. To the best of the author's knowledge, this is the
first assessment in Seattle of senior technology resources and needs. While it is believed
that this assessment is thorough and thoughtful, it does not purport to be comprehen-sive.
The surveys of local programs are not necessarily representative of programs across the
city, nor were the forum participants representative of all perspectives. The examples of
other initiatives are only a sampling of many hundreds across the country.
However, a variety of sources were used in the assessment to ensure a broad
perspective and integration of what may be seen through different lenses. Recommendations
for further study are contained in the final chapter.