Concern for elder migrants as services move online

Digital age ... it can confuse many elder migrants Source: AAP

Ethnic groups have raised concerns that some migrants are missing out on important government information because of a lack of digital literacy. Peggy Giakoumelos reports.

A growing trend has federal, state and local governments increasingly moving services online, creating barriers to those who lack digital literacy or access to the internet.

Pulling out your smart phone or tablet to pay a bill or looking up information on government websites is a common experience now for many Australians.

But there are concerns those who lack digital literacy or access to the internet are missing out on information online.

And the senior deputy chairwoman of the Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia, Eugenia Grammatikakis, says there is special concern for elderly migrants.

FECCA recently released a report called Digital Access and Equity for Multicultural Communities, which has looked at digital accessibility in multicultural communities.

"Not everyone has the opportunity to access information online. Some people have limited digital literacy, limited English proficiency, particularly older people and new migrants to this country or those of refugee backgrounds. So it is important that these issues are considered by government in their implementation of the digital information and digital government service delivery."

The Australian Bureau of Statistics says about 86 per cent of Australian households have access to the internet.

The reasons given for a household not having internet access include no need, lack of confidence or knowledge, and cost.

Translation of government information may not always help, with some migrants having limited literacy in their first languages.

FECCA says many older migrants with no digital literacy will nominate a relative or a community worker to access information online.

But Eugenia Grammatikakis says problems can occur for people who do not have that kind of support.

"Those who can use the digital space, good. But there will be, also, a large cohort of people within the community, and particularly within ethnic communities, who will not be able to do so. And there needs to be options for those individuals."

City of Yarra councillor Phillip Vlahogiannis suggests residents without digital literacy are facing discrimination because they cannot access information online.

He says the City of Yarra has reduced the number of newsletters it sends out through the post, preferring online communication.

Mr Vhalogiannis says, while demographics have changed in Yarra with more young professionals, older migrants still live in the area and need access to the information.

"I think it's worthwhile exploring, in this day and age, ways of more directly enabling people who do face those barriers to overcome them, and those ways are more empowering. We're in the 21st century, and technology is a great enabler. It also can be the source of what is called the 'digital divide.' I don't profess to be an expert on these things, but there's a lot of clever folks out there who can use technology to assist people in ways that we've not been able to do previously."

The 2016 census is also moving online, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics expecting more people to complete the census online than on paper on August 9.

Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria chairman Eddie Micallef says his council is working with the bureau to make sure migrants, and not just those online, can access the form.

"We are working with the ABS in putting out information sessions and linking them with various communities so that they have the capacity to run education programs in their own communities. You have to understand that they are not digitally ready at that age group. But the ABS is aware of that, and they're working with us to work through those issues to get these education sessions out into the community. And that will be successful, but whether it achieves maximum coverage is yet to be determined."

FECCA's report into digital literacy in migrant communities suggests a number of strategies to increase digital access.

Some recommendations include having clear apps on phone tablets which use symbols that can easily switch to translated languages or to audio recordings of information.

FECCA says provisions should still be made for refugees and older migrants unable to transition to digital service delivery.

That includes using face-to-face contact, radio, television and print media to provide information.


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