Civic Coffee Recap: Digital Equity for Older Adults

panelists at Age Friendly Seattle Civic Coffee in August 2023

On Friday, August 18, 2023, Age Friendly Seattle hosted its monthly Civic Coffee in collaboration with the South Park Senior Center. Panelists Jon Morrison Winters, the Digital Equity Program and Broadband Manager for the City of Seattle, and Johnathan Feuerstein a Digital Equity Coordinator at Sound Generations discussed the importance of digital equity for all older adults in our city.

Before joining the Seattle Information Technology Department, Jon was a senior planner at Aging and Disability Services, a division of the City’s human services department. He used that experience to prioritize digital equity for older adults in his current role. Digital inequities faced by older adults have been clear for many years, but inequities grew during the pandemic because many had to rely on technology to stay connected to their loved ones.

Screenshot of the recording of August's Civic Coffee meeting.

Click on the image above to watch a video recording of the Age Friendly Seattle Civic Coffee in August 2023.

In addressing digital inequities, the City of Seattle’s Digital Equity Program focuses on supporting Seattle residents in four areas—Internet connectivity, device accessibility, digital skills, and accessible applications. Findings from the Seattle Information Technology digital equity survey found that a major contributor to the digital inequities that older adults experience is not having the digital skills to use their devices.

Johnathan works as a digital navigator at Lake City Senior Center. He helps older adults navigate all aspects of technology, including teaching someone how to use their smartphone, computer, or specific applications. He says that one of the biggest challenges is that devices assume that users already know key information and terms, for example, using your finger to switch tabs on a phone or how to search for something on a search engine. He makes a comparison—learning how to use tech devices is like learning a new language, it is easier when you are younger. If you don’t grow up surrounded by it, it becomes more challenging as you get older.

Digital navigators play an important role in helping older adults gain the digital skills they need to use their devices. For many older people, it can be frustrating to not be able to use a device, and struggle to find tools to learn how to use them. According to a survey done by AARP, people aged 50 and older are interested in new technology but more than 68 percent said they worry the devices will be difficult because they believe that today’s technology isn’t designed with age and accessibility in mind. The shift to online platforms makes it difficult for older adults to navigate online learning about their devices, access important services like health test results, pay bills, and find online applications. This inequity is heightened with the limited in-person support to seek digital guidance.

Jon highlighted the Affordable Connectivity Program, which is a federal program that offers low-income households a $30 discount for internet services. This discount can be used with almost all internet and mobile providers. The City of Seattle’s Digital Equity Program supports getting Seattle residents connected. For questions or more information on the Affordable Connectivity Program and other low-cost connectivity options you can call 206-684-8498 or email

The Sound Generations digital navigator program—one-on-one in-person technical assistance with anything from password help to submitting online applications—is available at senior centers in West Seattle, Ballard, and Lake City, by appointment or drop-in, depending on the center.

Johnathan mentioned the increased risk of scams for older adults who are increasingly being targeted. It can be difficult to navigate what to do when you are faced with a fraud situation. Both panelists provided tips to avoid digital scams:

  • Don’t give out personal identifying information.
  • If it’s aggressive, it’s probably a scam.
  • Check the e-mail address if it contains random letters or numbers, it’s not trustworthy.
  • Do not press links in e-mails or text messages that do not seem authentic.

Johnathan recommends making tech devices more approachable by incorporating a hobby or personal interest. You may be personally motivated to download a crossword puzzle app, videochat with a friend or family member, watch an interesting video, or create a playlist with your favorite songs. These are enjoyable ways to practice and become more comfortable with online features. He also shared a few tips to make navigating technology easier, for example, using one email address, becoming comfortable with one device rather than several, removing unnecessary apps, and organizing passwords.

The City of Seattle’s efforts to reduce the digital divide include a Technology Matching Fund, which provides grants to nonprofit organizations and community groups in Seattle for technology projects in the four areas of digital equity. In 2023, the annual Tech Matching Fund had $545,000 worth of investments, which funded 18 organizations.

In addition, in response to community-expressed needs for residents without reliable Internet and computing devices, the City invests in digital navigator programs.

Technology is constantly advancing and there is room for improvements to be made to become more accessible for older adults. Both presenters are hopeful that in the future, companies put digital equity at the forefront to offer accessible devices for older adults and that more digital navigation programs can become available.

Couldn’t attend the Civic Coffee on Aging and Technology? Watch the video recording on YouTube (click here).

Plan now to join the Age Friendly Civic Coffee on Tuesday, October 24. Learn about the growing public health concern about social isolation and loneliness.

Age Friendly Seattle Civic Coffees are scheduled monthly. Stay connected with Age Friendly Seattle by visiting the events webpage and Aging King County’s Age Friendly Live—Virtual Events webpage, and follow Age Friendly Seattle on Facebook and Twitter. For more information, e-mail

Fathima GarciaContributor Fathima Garcia is an intern with Age Friendly Seattle. She is a recent Seattle Central College graduate with an associate degree in business administration. Starting this fall, she will study Human Resources Management at the University of Washington Foster School of Business.

The photo at top was taken at the August 2023 Age Friendly Seattle Civic Coffee at the South Park Senior Center.

This article appeared in the October 2023 issue of AgeWise King County.