Digital Inclusion of Marginalized Seniors
Lowering barriers for seniors to access safe, high-quality healthcare information and resources online.
A dynamic team of librarians from Fanshawe College spearheaded a research project examining seniors’ experiences as they navigate online healthcare information.
Using surveys and interviews, the research team spoke with seniors from rural and immigrant communities in Southern Ontario. The results highlighted a number of concerns, including cost barriers, navigation difficulties and trouble identifying quality resources. Read more about what the team found and their ideas for helping seniors feel informed and included.
Image 1: A look inside Fanshawe College Library
Linda Crosby, Fanshawe College Research & Curriculum Librarian: As librarians we have a passion to make sure that good information gets to the people who need it. I’ve been around long enough that I remember when people were able to walk into a library and pull a journal off the shelf and read it. Today, that same information may only be available if you’re allowed to log in to a computer. That runs counter to what I believe in as a librarian, which is: get the information to the people. You know the old saying: knowledge is power.
Donna Sevenpifer, Fanshawe College Research & Curriculum Librarian: I spent time volunteering with senior newcomers to Canada, and I saw firsthand many of the struggles they were experiencing. Maneuvering through their daily lives was often difficult, often due to limited literacy skills.
Many of the seniors we surveyed said they had difficulty navigating websites. They had trouble seeing the content, often because of poor layout or font size.
And this isn’t just a problem for the older population—here at Fanshawe College, more and more students each year are registering with Counseling and Accessibility Services, requiring assistance because of a visual impairment or other physical condition.
Overcoming barriers to access
Donna: Another barrier we identified for seniors was the cost factor—a lot of the good health information is locked behind a paywall. That’s why we advocate for better, more open access resources for seniors, and for our students as well.
We want all citizens, all students, all members of society, to have access to good, trustworthy, free information. As librarians, we need to keep that in mind. The student—or senior as the case may be—should not have to pay.
Linda: One of the specific recommendations we make in our report is that there’s a ton of great information that’s available through open access—but you need to have someone organize that for people’s consumption. It needs to be curated.
For college librarians and for librarians as a whole, that’s a big role we can play. We can help ensure that what’s out there can be readily and easily accessed, used, and understood by seniors specifically.
Image 2: A senior participant takes part in the survey
Protecting seniors from low-quality information
Donna: Many of the seniors we surveyed said they’re always able to find excellent sources of health information online, or that the sources they come across are very trustworthy. That sounds like a good thing—but as librarians, we worry that there may be some overconfidence going on there.
On the college campus we see that a lot—our students often display the same thing. It’s like the old adage that “you don’t know what you don’t know.”
One of our recommendations is that seniors need to be given both the opportunities to learn how to effectively search and evaluate health information online. That way they can ultimately find things that are trustworthy and credible. When we’re talking about health information, that’s crucially important; we don’t want anyone putting themselves at risk.
Image 3: The entrance to Fanshawe College Library
Building connections and local networks
Linda: One of the relationships we built was with an organization called the South London Neighborhood Resource Centre. Their work is amazing; they pull in all kinds of different segments of the community—seniors, immigrants, young mothers, people seeking jobs.
We’ve had a big influx of immigrants into the London community lately. We’re opening up our definition of marginalization to include those more socioeconomic factors as well. We feel pretty strongly and committed to the literature that we found as we started this project: Don’t treat all seniors the same!
That speaks to digital inclusion across society. One of the takeaways for me was that we need to be more vigilant about making sure what we practice here at the college is giving people enough opportunities to get the information they need in the way that they want to receive it.
Donna: Ensuring free and equal access to information is a tenet of librarianship. We need freely accessible, credible and trustworthy health information that seniors can access online. And they need to be accessible in terms of both format and language.
Linda Crosby, Research and Curriculum Librarian at Fanshawe College
Donna Sevenpifer, Research and Curriculum Librarian at Fanshawe College
Megan Anderson, Research and Curriculum at Fanshawe College