Older Canberrans who had limited access to the internet during the height of COVID-19 restrictions in the ACT did not know when they could again go back out to the shops, the ACT's peak body for ageing Canberrans says.
Council on the Ageing chief executive Jenny Mobbs said the pandemic had highlighted the importance of digital access, a key element in reducing loneliness and isolation both in usual and pandemic-affected times.
"We pride ourselves on being young Canberra, but older people comprise a fairly big percentage of the Canberra population. Lots are online, but lots aren't online, and that's become a really important issue for seniors to be able to access accurate information online," Ms Mobbs said.
It comes as the Australian Digital Inclusion Index, which is sponsored by Telstra, again found the ACT overall had the highest digital inclusion score. The territory has led other states on access, affordability and digital abilities since the first report in 2014.
The Council on the Ageing ACT has partnered with the Good Things Foundation to deliver volunteer-assisted workshops to help older Canberrans access a range of digital services.
Ms Mobbs said the workshops, which partnered a skilled volunteer with attendees for an hour of one-on-one support, had been running for a month and were now booked out well in advance.
She said some people were on their third visit to the program, which provided a positive environment to help people get online.
"We just need to make sure we are able to support them to get online, as many as we can. That's really tricky for some of the people who are on a fixed income and can't afford up-to-date devices, that's a bit of a challenge," Ms Mobbs said.
The Good Things Foundation's Get Online Week, which runs wraps up on Sunday, encourages older Australians to use digital technologies.
The foundation's national director, Jess Wilson, said it was important to find something which would motivate older Australians to start accessing online services.
"If you're a bit scared of technology and you haven't used it very much before, you're very unlikely to start at the place of using online banking," Ms Wilson said.
"If people love gardening, then finding out how you can get more information about gardening online or how you can join your local gardening group that talks ... those are the kind of things that are more likely to engage people in the first place."
She said the pandemic period had shown it was important for older Australians to access the digital economy, especially if they were still in the workforce.
People are at risk of losing their digital skills when they leave the workforce because they are no longer required to keep up with technology developments, Ms Wilson said.
For people who find themselves looking for work when they are at a later stage in their careers, the digital skills gap can hurt their employment chances, she said.
"It's actually about ensuring that everyone has the same access to the digital economy and can participate fully in that."
Ms Wilson said it was important to recognise not all older Australians needed support to access the internet, but it needed to be available for those who do.
"People in our target audience invented the internet, so we're definitely not saying that everyone doesn't know how to use technology. Lots of people do. But we know there are a group of people who don't and we want to make sure they don't get left behind," she said.