While seniors today have several assistive technology options to help improve their lives, many are unsure how to tap into what is available to them.

However, seniors in New York City can attend classes and programs set up by the Older Adults Technology Services (OATS), a Brooklyn-based non-profit that seeks to educate and train the aging population on how to use a variety of technologies, including smart-enabled appliances and devices.

Alex Glazebrook, Ph.D., the director of technology and training at OATS, explained in an interview with R&D Magazine that the organization looks to help the aging population improve their lives through advancements in technology. 

“The mission behind our work is finding ways for people to use technology to improve their lives,” he said. “So we are not necessarily so concerned with learning technology, we are more concerned with what the technology does for people once they do learn it.”

“We have a whole variety of different programs that have a tech core, but the overall goal is to get people to use the technology in ways that empower them, in ways that actually incite change in the different areas of their lives,” he added.

While OATS offers basic tutorial courses on computers and tablets, Glazebrook said they also build off the basics to offer seniors an opportunity to learn about the different technologies that could improve their lives.

Some of the services OATS offers include teaching seniors about assistive technology such as Amazon Echo system, Google Home, the Nest Thermostat, and different assistive smart systems for locks, lights, and doorbells.  

OATS, a 501c3, was founded in 2004 in Brooklyn to provide digital literacy training to Brooklynites over the age of 60. They then expanded to offer their services to all five boroughs and in 2012, they opened the Senior Planet Exploration Center on 25th Street in Manhattan.

The center is equipped with state-of-the-art technology to enable OATS to offer courses and classes to seniors on a variety of different programs and technologies. They also have people available at the center to help set up any device or troubleshoot any problems a client may be having.

Glazebrook said one of the things that has changed since OATS began is that the clients now have more experience with basic technologies than they used to.

“In the past, when the internet exploded 20 years ago, you might encounter people who didn’t have familiarity with the internet, but now that’s less common and what you have is people who lack familiarity with the things that are emerging,” he said. “We are having to adjust our offerings so they fit more within what people want.”

“That might mean we are not doing so much basic instruction and we are doing things that are more advanced like website creation,” he added.

However, the ability to “smart-enable” virtually every device and appliance in a home can come with a hefty price tag.

According to Glazebrook, about 30 to 35 percent of OATS clientele is below the Federal Poverty Level.

“For them it might not be outfitting their home with all the latest and greatest gadgets, it might not be feasible and it might not be relevant,” he said. “But I think the ability for us to be able to explain to people what these things do and show it to them in person helps keep people relevant and keep them in tune to what is changing.”    

Glazebrook said that while OATS focuses on the senior population, the technology is relevant to virtually anyone.

“The most important part of it is that assistive devices in the home are kind of relevant for anyone regardless of their age or disability,” he said. “Just because you are an older adult doesn’t mean you need to be able to control your lighting from your couch but it may just be something you want.”

“People are interested regardless of their age in technologies that are emerging and new and exciting for everybody,” he added.