CSU Northrige -- October 17, 2003

Innovative Program Bridges Digital Divide for Deaf Seniors from CSU Northrige

An inventive pilot program—the brainchild of a Cal State Northridge administrator and a Rotary International executive—was launched this month to help deaf and hard of hearing senior citizens cross the digital divide to the Internet.

The Deaf Senior’s Computer Literacy Project is the cooperative effort of Northridge’s National Center on Deafness (NCOD) and Rotary International, District 5260. It pairs 12 seniors with six computer-savvy Northridge deaf and hard of hearing students, who provide each senior with three sessions of personalized computer training.

Using computers donated by Rotary International, seniors receive up to three hours of training per session, depending on the level of need. They learn a range of skills, including computer functions, how to use e-mail, how to access the Internet and how to use instant messaging—a means of personal communication for deaf Internet users that now rivals the use of text telephone (TTY) machines.

The program began in early October and will continue through Nov. 16.

“This collaboration aims to relieve the concerns of seniors who feel isolated from technology and the digital world and who commonly are daunted by the task of learning how to use the computer,” said Merri Pearson, NCOD director. “Their new Internet skills will introduce them to a whole world of health resources, community programs and neighborhood services.”

Rotary International Past District Governor John Alexander said the three-year drive to make the program a reality had to overcome a string of obstacles. “It was worth the effort,” he said. The student trainers receive $600 stipends provided by local Rotary Clubs, including the North Hollywood, Studio City, Sherman Oaks, Granada Hills, Tarzana/Encino and San Fernando Valley Northwest chapters. Rotary International, through its Community Assistance Program, matches all stipends.

Local Rotary groups also are contributing an entire year of Internet service and provider service lines for seniors in the program.

The NCOD, which has oversight responsibility for the project, identified and trained the students: junior Mick Freeland, senior Chris Le, junior Matt Guarino, sophomore Mike Catran, and graduate students Michelle Massey and Erika Leger.

The NCOD’s technical team is handling delivery of computers to seniors’ homes, and installation of computers, software and modems. Alexander and Pearson formulated the idea for the project after striking up a conversation at a grocery warehouse. Their conversation soon turned to how the NCOD and Rotary International could join forces. Within a few weeks the two had a plan for the computer literacy project.
According to Pearson, Rotary International may seek to replicate the program throughout the world. A report on the pilot’s outcomes will be submitted to the district level Rotary and Rotary International at the project’s end.

Most seniors in the program were contacted through the regions two primary senior citizens assisted living homes for the deaf: Pilgrim Towers in Los Angeles and the Greater Los Angeles Council on Deafness facility in Eagle Rock.

The cross-generational interaction has benefits for both students and seniors, Pearson noted. “Seniors receive one-on-one training in their native languages and at their individual pace, and students get the satisfaction of mentoring, teaching and learning from their elders.”

For more information about the project, contact Pearson at (818) 677-2611 or erri.c.pearson@csun.edu.

The National Center on Deafness has placed California State University, Northridge at the forefront internationally in the provision of services to people who are deaf and have other disabilities. Specifically, NCOD has been honored for service to the campus and community, as well as for its specialized projects and materials used across the nation.


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