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Pumphouse helps connect seniors through technology

Seniors are teaching other seniors how to use technology on iPads through a program offered by the Niagara Pumphouse Arts Centre. In August they will move to small, in-person classes.
Seniors are teaching other seniors how to use technology on iPads through a program offered by the Niagara Pumphouse Arts Centre. In August they will move to small, in-person classes. (Kim Wade)

“It’s just good to know that we are all in the same boat,” says retired secondary school teacher Russell Wade. 

He and his wife Glennys participated in the first workshop in the Connecting Seniors through Technology series offered by the Niagara Pumphouse Arts Centre last Tuesday morning. The virtual workshop on iPad Basics taught participants the fundamentals of how to begin to navigate an iPad. They were taught basic moves such as swipe, touch, tap, hold, scroll and zoom, along with how to make your iPad more accessible to the specific needs of seniors.

The six participants were shown how to adjust the settings to individualize their iPads for their specific needs. For example, they were taught to enlarge or change the font, plus how to magnify apps and change the colour contrast for easier legibility and clarity. They were also taken through the steps to navigate to and between applications, and how to adjust the volume and brightness settings.  

The aim of the workshop was to help seniors be more familiar with iPads, and more engaged with technology. They were shown how to access applications such as Hoopla, which enables people to virtually access public libraries to enjoy reading e-books or watching movies on their tablet. The workshop will also serve as a foundation for further learning on how to access email, and social media apps such as FaceTime and Facebook to keep them connected with family, friends and the community.  

“One of the big goals is to reduce the isolation and the loneliness that comes with COVID. That’s a primary goal of the project,” says Lise Andreana, chair of the Pumphouse. 

All the workshops in the series are offered free through a federal initiative called the New Horizons for Seniors Program. The Niagara Pumphouse applied for and received a grant that allowed them to purchase six iPad Pros, to train the senior volunteers and to set up the series. 

The first task, Andreana explains, was to gather and train volunteers that meet the definition of senior, meaning 50 and above, to help older seniors who are struggling with technology. Now the training of the volunteers is done, they are now into the July sessions, which are still being delivered online. However, in August, the Pumphouse is happy to be moving to in-person classes. 

They are planning for all the classes to be small. “It’s not about serving 100 or 150 or 200 people, it’s about the intimacy and social connection,” explains Andreana. They are expecting to have three to six senior students in a class, with three to five volunteers. “It’s going to be very informal and very relaxed,” she continued. “We just hope to really have a lot of fun, impart some wisdom, and try to take some mystery out of the iPad tablets and tablets in general, for the seniors that have difficulty with this.” 

Andreana explains she feels this program is another way of supporting the seniors in the community. She says 60 per cent of the population in NOTL is over 50. Many of the seniors here fit into the younger senior category, those who are close to retirement or newly retired, healthy and active, and still able to play golf and chase after their grandchildren. However, as we age, we transition through to the middle and then later senior categories. These people may begin to be plagued with continuing health problems and may have physical or cognitive limitations. Eventually, they become less active, and in turn become less social. In this later stage, Andreana says, “their world shrinks,” and they lose the connectivity with friends, family and the community that is so important for mental well-being. 

Andreana is very excited about the August sessions, which will feature how to connect to the internet, how to take photos, store photos and create digital photo albums. They will also cover how to create a contact and to use video apps like FaceTime or Zoom. Andreana believes that is important for senior parents to connect with their children and their grandchildren and reconnect with people that they may have lost touch with because of COVID. “That was the purpose behind the grant. They are trying to help everyone connect, because connections have been broken, and to increase the opportunities for connection, especially for the seniors and for the elderly.”

The Pumphouse is planning for the sessions to continue and evolve over the next year. In September, they are planning to teach sessions on how to use the camera on a phone or tablet. One of the volunteers will be leading sessions on social media. 

However, as Andreana highlights, “the involvement of the students is really important to the development of the program. Where they say their needs are is where you are going to see this go.” She would like to see seniors involved with the program, let them know what they are interested in learning, and what their needs are. “As they tell us what they need, then you can see the program developed to meet those needs.” 

Andreana recognizes the importance of supporting our seniors in the community. She is proud of the program they have developed and will continue to develop at the Pumphouse. She anticipates it will be successful in helping seniors develop a deeper understanding of technology as a tool for engagement and connection. She also recognizes that using unfamiliar technology can be intimidating to seniors and she believes these workshops, especially the in-person sessions, will help to alleviate some of the anxiety and intimidation by helping seniors recognize we are “all in the same boat.”

To register for the online or in-person classes please visit the Niagara Pumphouse Arts Centre at, or give them a call at 905-468-5455.