Connected Canadians is a female-founded non-profit organization that lends seniors all over Canada products like the Echo, which Amazon has so far pledged to donate and teaches them how technology works, especially in the age of technology and in the middle of a pandemic.

Emily Joanisse and Tasneem Damen have created a company that teaches and connected Canadians to their families and allows them to live in a safer environment with access to technology and its many benefits. We had the opportunity to chat with Emily and Tas, read about it below.

Where did the idea come from to create a way to teach senior citizens how to use technology? 

Both of us come from technological backgrounds and it became clear to us a few years ago that Canada’s senior population was incredibly underserved in the field of digital literacy and support, something that is becoming a crucial part of our social contract. We wanted to utilize our experience in technology, management, and education to address this disparity and find a more scalable solution. We founded Connected Canadians pre-pandemic to connect seniors with free digital technology training and support through a human-centred approach rooted in patience, empathy and knowledge. We recruited an amazing team of highly skilled technology workers, who collectively speak 12 languages! 

Our goal is to ensure our program is accessible to all seniors. In today’s world, especially after the turbulence of the last two years, we’ve come to realize that digital literacy and accessibility is no longer a luxury, but a fundamental human right. Amazon’s donation of Echo Show devices, with their intuitive interface and highly advanced voice technology, has been such a help in allowing us to continue our program and provide our seniors with user-friendly and convenient technology. 

Have you noticed benefits to mental health or livelihood when seniors have learned to use this technology, especially during the pandemic?

We have definitely seen the positive impact our services have provided the elderly community. The pandemic was especially hard for seniors since they were one of the most at-risk groups in Canada for contracting severe cases of COVID-19. With the pandemic forcing many individuals to stay at home, seeing loved ones became an increasingly difficult feat, especially for those who were not familiar or equipped with the technological tools to communicate from afar. More than ever did we see how critical the need for digital literacy and accessibility is within our modern society.

We have so many testimonials from our seniors that showcase the positive impact our work has done on them. Kate, a 69-year-old retired researcher, recently shared how convenient her Echo Show device has been for her to play music while she paints, remember items that come to mind for grocery lists, and set reminders for herself. Another participant, 81-year-old Quebec native Margaret-Anne, let us know her Alexa device has even felt like a friend to her, thanks to its wealth of knowledge! We’ve also had wonderful reports from long-term care home residents, including one resident that uses Alexa to play music specific to the cultural background of each PSW that comes to help her get ready each day, another great example of technology helping to create special connections across cultures.

Connected Canadians and Amazon are teaming up, what can you tell us about this partnership?

Since before the pandemic, Amazon Canada has been exploring ways to alleviate the inaccessibility of tech to various groups across Canada, including seniors. Of course, the pandemic only amplified this, intensifying communication barriers between the ageing population and their loved ones. By working together, Amazon is supporting our mission to reduce isolation and loneliness amongst older adults by connecting seniors digitally through a human-centred approach. They’ve donated over 500 Echo Show devices to our device program, which we have already begun to disburse and train our senior participants on how to use to increase their quality of life. Through working side-by-side with Connected Canadians-trained staff and volunteers that have a high comfort level in technology, clients have been able to use their Echo Show devices regularly, problem-solving any tech issues with knowledgeable support and enjoying the comfort and company Alexa provides.

How do you think your partnership with Amazon is going to benefit not only the company but your elderly clientele?

This partnership has been incredibly rewarding for our community – Alexa provides unique solutions for those with hearing, mobility, speech and vision challenges, making Amazon devices more accessible to our participants. On top of the convenience of voice technology, the products offer a variety of interesting features that create a more seamless experience for senior users like Captioning, ScreenReader, Magnifying and Routines. Elderly users can also use Alexa’s popular skills to make their lives a bit simpler and more fun, including the ability to call loved ones through voice activation, set reminders for medication, and even activate the new “Send a Hug” feature! Additionally, thanks to the screen feature the Echo Show offers, users can view features like news highlights and the weather is an added visual format.

We have seen over the past year and a half how much joy Alexa has brought to communities across Canada and we’re happy to continue the momentum with this collaboration.

What has become the most rewarding part of creating Connected Canadians?

Seeing the added joy and increased quality of life from our senior participant’s thanks to their newfound access to technology tools and training. Knowing our work is making a difference in their lives is incredibly rewarding. We created this organization with the purpose of reducing isolation and loneliness across the senior population and every happy participant is considered a win for us! We have so many testimonials from our community that not only express the happiness these tech tools and digital skills have brought them, but also the pleasure of working with our kind, patient and highly skilled mentors. We’re lucky to have a diverse and interesting team to match our diverse and interesting customer base, exemplifying our human-first approach to teaching. 

Our hope is that we can continue to work with innovative partners like Amazon to ensure that all Canadian seniors will have access to free technology and training support by 2030!

Article published by HOLR Magazine