Strengthening immigrant seniors’ digital literacy during the COVID‑19 infodemic through social support networking

Ahn, Claire | $23,529

Ontario Queen's University 2021 SSHRC

The COVID‑19 pandemic has re-focused a spotlight on the need to strengthen seniors’ access to social and community services (Philpott et al., 2020). However, the specific needs of senior immigrants are often overlooked. Options Community Services (OCS), located in British Columbia, observed that immigrant seniors within their community were struggling to find ways to access basic services, most of which were and continue to be online, such as being able to find, evaluate and understand credible information about COVID-19. The problem is that having immigrant seniors continuously rely on OCS for support is not sustainable. Considering this, OCS believes in providing opportunities to increase immigrant seniors’ confidence and independence when using technology. As such, this research will work towards supporting the immediate and ongoing needs of OCS by developing key educational opportunities to foster digital literacy and mentorship so that immigrant seniors can feel more independent and provide leadership and support now and in the future.

The unpredictable nature of COVID‑19 has resulted in everyone living through an “infodemic” (WHO, 2020, p. 1). However, the specific needs of immigrant seniors are often overlooked. There are many immigrant seniors who lack the necessary digital literacy skills to access, distill and comprehend continuous shifting information about the pandemic, which places a significant strain on their families, caretakers, and communities (Song, 2020). Media outlets, governments, health officials, and organizations use many digital platforms to communicate their messages. Yet, immigrant seniors are constantly left in the dark due to issues of access (e.g., technology, language). As such, this research project is a timely opportunity to address the immediate needs and concerns within the OCS organization in exploring immigrant seniors’ experiences and engagement with COVID-related information and to build more sustainable support networks within their communities. To address the immediate needs and goals of OCS this study will:

1. Evaluate existing community-based initiatives that help immigrant seniors in the OCS community access accurate COVID-related information online

2. Analyze immigrant seniors’ experiences with accessing, navigating, and understanding available COVID-related information.

3. Create educational opportunities to develop immigrant seniors’ digital literacy skills and increase their confidence and independence when using technology in searching for new information.

This proposed research comes at a time when COVID‑19 continues to re-highlight ongoing issues and concerns. We are seeing increased attention to the needs of older Canadians, such as discussions around strengthening social and community services which seniors can access. However, the specific needs of immigrant senior populations are often overlooked; they are the invisible population. Issues of accessibility and its effects on marginalized communities is not a new problem, rather the COVID context has brought the issue to the forefront, again. This project is timely as it will explore immigrant seniors’ engagement with digital media in trying to understand what issues they might face in accessing necessary, often critical, information, and stresses the significant need for a sustained social support system for immigrant seniors. Information, especially around COVID‑19 (e.g. safety, lockdown, variants, vaccines) is changing at a rapid pace. As more immigrant adults approach the age of retirement (United Nations Population Fund, 2018), where intersectional vulnerabilities may be further amplified, it is even more important to consider better, sustainable support for this unique and important population now and in the future.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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