Age Friendly Seattle Adapts to the Virtual Environment

People with different skills connecting together online

Age Friendly Seattle has constantly innovated their events to accommodate guests. Prior to the pandemic, they hosted monthly Civic Coffee Hours at downtown locations, including the Seattle Library’s Central Branch. The events educated people of all ages on current happenings and programs serving different needs and emphasized inclusivity. In early 2020, however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they had to orient themselves virtually—something they, and many users, had never done before.

Lenny Orlov, an Age Friendly Seattle Program Coordinator and the host for Age Friendly Seattle’s live and online events, said the events are drastically different than 15 years ago, when they started.

“We often had food—coffee, donuts, or something healthy—to provide in person,” said Orlov. “We devoted half of our time to the presentation and the other half to questions, answers, and feedback. Also, people were able to arrive early and stay later.”

The Coffee Hours started as both “civic participation and social engagement type opportunities,” he continued. “Civic participation continues virtually but … the social aspect was a lot stronger when we met in person.”

The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t stop Age Friendly Seattle from executing monthly meetings to relay helpful information to the public. For Nancy Slote, Older Adults Program Manager at The Seattle Public Library and a recurring guest at the events, providing useful information during these unprecedented times is a key to reaching out to the public.Nancy Slote screen capture

“I think that one of the advantages of the partnership is that the Library and Age Friendly have unique reaches to the public,” Slote said. “The more information we can get out to people, the better.”

Following observation and adaptation, Age Friendly Seattle implemented a second virtual event series in April 2021, called Close to Home: Stories of Health, Tech & Resilience. Close to Home highlights community information. Orlov said the event was intended “for a bigger audience where community leaders and their organizations are showcased alongside of the City’s—we wanted to encourage people to stay home but stay connected and we wanted to keep the community together.”

Throughout their journey, the Age Friendly Seattle team has struggled with accessibility—both hearing access and language access. With limited resources, they couldn’t caption in-person meetings in any language or translate from English to the languages spoken by audience members. Utilizing the tools they had available, Microsoft Teams turned out to be an excellent online resource for auto captions.

“Once we started to reach out to different communities, the events grew,” Orlov mentioned. Age Friendly Seattle received helpful feedback. Now, auto captions are offered in six languages spoken by many of their viewers—English, Russian, Arabic, Vietnamese, Spanish, Korean, and Chinese—and they hope to add more in the future.

Over the past year, the Age Friendly Seattle team found their rhythm and is moving forward with determination. One of Orlov’s key skills—learned as a result of the process—is multitasking.

“Delegating is important because a lot happens at once,” he said. “Early on, I had to do everything, including our Q&A portion.”

Orlov also improved his oral skills. Initially, it was difficult to speak without referring to notes, he said. It took a lot of practice not to sound like he was reading a script.

Slote elaborated on this, saying a key skill that she honed while presenting was imagination. “Pretending that you’re talking to somebody in person helps,” she said. “I try to imagine that somebody’s in front of me. That really helps me to be more relaxed and not too formal.”

The Age Friendly Seattle team overcame technical difficulties along their way but have strived to make their events more inclusive and better each time. They plan to move toward “a hybrid state,” where participants can join in person at multiple locations, such as senior living communities or community centers around the city, once the pandemic hour screen capture

Civic Coffee Hours take place on the third Thursday of each month from 10:30 a.m.–11:30 a.m. Pacific Time. Close to Home events take place on the first Thursday of each month (except December) from 10:30 a.m.–11:30 a.m. Pacific Time. At event time, visit and click the blue Join Event Now button. For information on other ways to connect, including by telephone, click the green Get Instructions button.

If you miss the live shows, you can visit Age Friendly Seattle’s YouTube playlists for video recordings of prior events.

Contributor Jody Wong was an intern with the Seattle Youth Employment Program this summer. She spent six weeks with the Seattle Human Services Departments communications team learning about blogging, editing reports, and helping to support Age Friendly Seattle virtual events. You may have seen her moderating a question!

This article originally appeared in Human Interests Blog (Seattle Human Services) on 8/26/21. It was re-posted in the September 2021 issue of AgeWise King County.