Atlanta nonprofit teaches grandparents how to text - and stay in touch

Jonathan Serrie reports from Atlanta


ATLANTA — “My grandkids never call” is a common complaint among older Americans, but an Atlanta nonprofit group has a solution: teach grandparents how to text.

“That’s how people communicate today,” said Jane Ratliff, founder of Bluehair Technology Group. “Phone calls happen when people have time. People don’t always have time. And the older adult has to recognize that. And if you can text message in short bursts back and forth, you are going to have a conversation.”

Ratliff, who has a professional background in the mobile phone industry, said she got the inspiration for Bluehair while teaching her octogenarian mother how to use an iPad.

Many older Americans feel intimidated or overwhelmed when they visit help desks at electronics stores because they have no idea what to ask, Ratliff explained. So, teaching them about technology requires a different strategy than the standard “How may I help you?” approach.

“You have to anticipate,” Ratliff said. “You have to already know what their needs are. A lot of times someone who’s never used technology before doesn’t know what they need to know.”

Bluehair Technology Group travels to churches, synagogues and retirement communities to teach seniors how to use smartphones, tablets and standard computers. Instructors and volunteers take extra time to translate high tech concepts into terms relevant to the students’ age group.

“When we talk about podcasting we really say, ‘Okay, go back to the 40s when what we had, primarily, (was) radio,” Ratliff said. “You’d turn on the radio and you’d listen to a radio show. That’s exactly what podcasting is.”

The analogies are intended to give new technology a sense of familiarity.

“I didn’t grow up with computers,” said Nancy Culp, who enrolled in a class on how to use the iPad. “It’s a whole different language. And my brain is not programmed to think like a computer  processes information.”

As technology becomes more widespread, Americans are growing older. Ratliff hopes bridging the gap between these two trends will keep seniors engaged with the world around them.

“For an older senior, who maybe is losing mobility and losing connection with their social networks, (technology) allows them to keep up with that social connection,” Ratliff said.

For Lois Beauchamp, one of the best things about learning how to use the iPhone is “getting instant photography of the grandchildren.”

Beauchamp added that she enjoys getting in touch with family members “and knowing that they know you care. And you know that they care. And that is so important.”


Jonathan Serrie joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in April 1999 and currently serves as a correspondent based in the Atlanta bureau.