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Beijing's seniors get help in bridging digital divide

By DU JUAN | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2021-02-25 07:23
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Young volunteers teach seniors how to use smartphones at a community center in Taiyuan, Shanxi province. [Photo provided to CHINA DAILY]

Beijing will carry out multiple measures to help bridge what has become a growing digital divide for many older people in the city to make sure they share in the benefits of a smart society.

Given that technology brings convenience to society in many ways and has become widespread, such as the use of scanned codes for payment, entrance to buildings and registration, seniors who are not tech-savvy face growing difficulty in daily life.

Li Xiaoli, a 63-year-old Beijing resident, said she once waited for 40 minutes along a street trying to hail a cab but none stopped for her.

"It was so frustrating. It seems all the taxi drivers only take orders on mobile platforms. I don't know how to use those car-hailing apps. I have no one to ask when my son is not around."

Online reservation systems can also seem user unfriendly to seniors who may find it difficult to fill in a series of blanks.

Public venues such as parks, hospitals, museums and libraries are increasingly using online reservation systems, especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which presents a de facto barrier to health, cultural and leisure facilities for a big part of the older population.

To help solve difficulties facing those seniors, the Beijing city government recently announced that it will implement 52 specific measures this year aimed at helping its older residents, including simplifying online medical services and providing voice-led guidance. An additional 37 measures are scheduled for 2022.

The capital also will issue plans this year to punish businesses that refuse to take payments in cash, which is still widely used by many older people.

The plan will make it clear that payment systems for retail, catering, shopping malls, parks and other basic public services such as water and electricity must not decline to accept cash payments.

"I tried so hard to remember how to use a mobile phone to scan the code and pay, but I just always forget when I really need to use the skill," said Dong Xing, a retiree who lives in Beijing with her daughter.

"It sounds ridiculous that one cannot spend money when she has it, but it's really happening," she said.

According to the city government, Beijing had a permanent residential population of 3.71 million who are aged 60 and above by the end of 2019, accounting for 17.2 percent of the city's total population. That group has continued to grow, according to a report released last year by the city.

Officials said that the city has been working to improve seniors' lives.

"Smart technology should serve them, instead of blocking them from a happier life," said a volunteer surnamed Xu in Beijing's Xicheng district.

He is helping to teach seniors to use smartphones and become more familiar with the internet and related services.

"They need unhurried and patient explanations. Most of the time, we need to repeat things several times. That's the way to bring them to where they can enjoy these benefits, too. There is no shortcut for caring," he said.

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