Tech savvy URI students help seniors master their cell phones

Posted 7/30/19

By TONIE LOPEZ Marie George has experienced the advances of technology and now she is turning to a URI student, 75 years younger than she, to take full advantage of her laptop. At 95 years old, Marie is learning how to Skype as part of a program - Cyber

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Tech savvy URI students help seniors master their cell phones


Marie George has experienced the advances of technology and now she is turning to a URI student, 75 years younger than she, to take full advantage of her laptop.

At 95 years old, Marie is learning how to Skype as part of a program – Cyber Seniors – offered at the Pilgrim Senior Center. Her eager teacher is Qiana Ferraro, 20, of Cranston, a Pharmacy student enrolled in the University of Rhode Island’s Engaging Generations Program. Cyber Seniors is designed to help older adults learn, use, and understand newer forms of technology such as cell phones, Ipads, tablets, and laptops, as well the use of different features such as texting, email, sending and receiving email, and general browsing of the web.

In addition to Skype, Marie learned how to enter contacts, how to use the speakers and volume control, as well as text messages with her laptop.

Marie enjoys the Cyber Seniors program, especially the one-on-one attention she gets from Qiana. As for advances in technology, Marie said she finds it helpful when she understands it, adding “finding shortcuts” is helpful.

And how has technology differed from when Marie was in her twenties?

“Oh my God. I used to have a rotary dial. I even had a phone you speak into put to the other piece to your ear.” She mentioned the infamous party lines, when picking up the phone “you heard people talking and couldn’t get through.” Marie also responded about how she feels about the technology today and what she likes. She said that even though today’s technology is less personal, she likes that it is “faster” and “you don’t have to wait for an operator.” She recalled how in her day, there was no call waiting or answering machines and described how a person would have to pick up the phone, wait for the operator to answer, give them the number and the operator would connect them through. If someone was on the phone or not home at all the, the caller would simply have to hang up and wait until later to try again. If a line was busy with “party lines” the call would not go through and the caller would again have to wait to call back. “If someone was else was on the phone, you had to wait for them to get off,” she said.

“There was more time back then.”

She noted how many people did not have automobiles and if a family had at least one they “were lucky.” She also talked about how fast technology has changed and how this change is heading toward another “IT revolution.”

Pondering how well the today’s generation would fair in her time, she said, “They’d be bored to tears.” She went on to say how there was no Internet, no “pizza on demand” no restaurants, and no “instant anything.” “You were content with sitting of the porch and if someone walked by, you had a nice conversation. If they didn’t say anything, you just sat and enjoyed the sunshine.”

Both Marie and Qiana are teaching each other and learning something new.

Marie enjoys working with Qiana and has found the program helpful.

“I’m getting the hang of it,” she said.

“Yeah, she does really good,” verified Qiana.

With a sweet chuckle, Marie said that by working with her, Qiana is learning “how to be patient with seniors.” She also describes how warm and friendly Qiana is with her senior students as well as being easy to work with.

According to Qiana, the seniors she instructs vary from week to week. “I had only two people come (last week). Just kind of sitting in, but people who hear of it (Cyber Seniors) more, they’ll come in more.” Qiana said.

Qiana also mentioned advancements in technology, namely how fast paced it has become and even how younger generations have a difficult time keeping up.

“Someone brought in a third generation Kindle, it took me a little while to figure it out,” Qiana added.

Qiana is doing service hours by teaching for Cyber Seniors at the center this summer for academic credit as part of her major.

The biggest technical issue many of the seniors faced was texting.

“Someone came in with a flip phone and was trying to text since you have to press a button multiple times to get the letter “B,” said Qiana. Although an obstacle at first, those who struggled with texting usually were able to maneuver it in no time.

In addition, Apps seem to be a challenge for some to figure out. Qiana spoke of one individual who was having an issue with his resume who was writing it on a template using his laptop. “It kept messing up on him, which was frustrating.” Her advice though for anyone, with any kind of device is simply to “play around with it.”

The Cyber Seniors program first gained popularity from the documentary, titled simply “Cyber Seniors” in 2014. This film was an inside look on the lives of a group of senior citizen to embrace technology more by having it taught to them by teenage mentors. Upon showings of the movie, many people took note.

URI Assistant Professor of Aging and Health, Skye Leedahl, PhD, said the program started at URI in 2015, a year after the film’s release. “We watched the trailer for the documentary of Cyber Seniors,” she said. “It started off as a program for adults in Canada. It highlights different adults and getting two generations together is so valuable.” Leedahl goes into detail about URI’s take on the program, how it began as a pilot program in Fall of 2015, before it “really took off in the Spring of 2016.”

Cyber Seniors has about 10-12 sites across the state, with 5 students from URI. Leedahl said that “more and more (are) wanting it (Cyber Seniors)”, and that many college students and adults “see it as a need.” She also feels that the intergenerational connection is very helpful to all involved. “Building relationships is magical,” she adds. “It (Cyber Seniors) can get out to harder to reach areas,” she says. Cyber Seniors involves the university students who are in the Pharmacy program or doing independent study. “It’s a way get to get credits,” Leedahl adds. The students participating must complete 40 service hours to earn academic credit for their classes, Qiana Ferraro being one of them.

URI’s program has also begun to reach out to high school students across the state, especially students in Providence.

Leedahl points out how beneficial it would be to have high school students teach Cyber Seniors, as high schools are throughout the state. This prospect makes it easier to set up a local site to teach the program, and not have the senior citizen or student travel a long distance.

“It (Cyber Seniors) can get out to harder to reach areas,” she says.

Seniors are provided a binder of information that gives the basics of technological devices and the features that come with them. Features like the Internet, and certain games that are good for the brain and mental health. It also discusses the benefits of being able to be in contact with loved ones, such as grandchildren more frequently. The binder comes with a set of safety features when on the Internet, and how to look out for Malware, Spam, or possible scammers.

Also included, is information on the Adaptive Telephone Equipment Loan Program (ATEL). This program, developed by the RI Department of Human Services, provides telephone and wireless communication devices for disabled individuals. Those who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing, have a speech disability or those who have a neuromuscular problem. The Captioned Telephone (CapTel) is a phone device that reads out on a screen what the other person is saying on the other line. CapTel comes with a variety to choose from, for people who have different levels of hearing and vision problems.

Persons who have limited mobility can use the Hands Free Speakerphone and the Freedom Alert pendant that signals emergency help when needed. Ipads, Iphones, Androids and even a touch-free smart phone are also available.

Individuals who meet the low-income criteria may be eligible for inexpensive or free wireless devices and plans. These include the Jitterbug Flip Phones, and the wireless Lifeline program, which are government-funded services to help those in need.

If interested in Cyber Seniors or for more information please email, or come in or call the Pilgrim Center to schedule an appointment. The program is available through several other Senior and Community Centers in the state including Cranston, Pawtucket and East Greenwich.

For more information on ATEL, please contact Denise Corson at (401) 462-7857, TTY (401) 222-1679, or email at They can also be reached by mail at Department of Human Services, Office of Rehabilitation Services, ATEL Program, 5th floor, 40 Fountain ST. Providence, RI, 02904. Feel free to also visit ATEL’s website at


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luv da headline next to the picture. yo grandma, stop talking into da toaster, it aint a cellphone. here, use my phone dat looks like a laptop

Tuesday, July 30, 2019