The St. Louis County Library is debuting what it calls an “exciting new program that links seniors to technology,” taking applications now for specially designed computer devices that will allow senior citizens to connect to the internet and to their loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The library will give out 1,500 “GrandPads,” internet-enabled and specially designed computer tablets for seniors even with little or no experience with technology, with an emphasis on lower-income seniors living in St. Louis County and other equity factors.
Applications opened Wednesday and will be available through the end of the day Sunday, Feb. 28, on the library website, which also has a FAQ on the program. All applications will be reviewed after the deadline. Applications are only available online, but a friend or family member can complete the application on behalf of the senior.
Any senior resident can apply for a tablet, although the tablets are typically used by seniors 65 years or older and aimed at seniors 75 years and older. To be eligible the person must live in St. Louis County and have access to a St. Louis County Library card. The applications will be chosen “using equity as the guiding principle,” a library spokeswoman said.
The seniors will be able to keep the GrandPads for a year, and then will have a choice whether to give them back to the library or take over the subscription fees.
The money for the GrandPads will come from St. Louis County’s federal coronavirus response funds, which paid for the library’s Digital Equity Initiative last year that provided 10,000 internet hotspots and 6,100 Chromebook laptops to schoolchildren across St. Louis County for virtual learning during the pandemic. The cost of the GrandPad subscription per year is $648, or $972,000 for the year for all 1,500 devices.
Expanding the tablet program to seniors with computers specially designed for them was a step the county Older Adult Commission, a volunteer board, has advocated in talks with library officials since last summer.
“The pandemic has increased barriers for many in our community and particularly for older adults who may not have access to technology that can connect them to family, friends and information,” said St. Louis County Library Director and CEO Kristen Sorth in a press conference she held instead of County Executive Sam Page’s briefing Wednesday. “Social isolation for seniors is a serious public health concern. To help address these issues, we are excited to start providing tablets for older adults in St. Louis County. These devices were designed by and for older adults and will give individuals the ability to connect in so many meaningful ways.”
When it comes to deciding which seniors will get GrandPads, Sorth said that equity will be taken into consideration.
“There’s a number of things that we want to take into account to make sure that these devices get into the hands of seniors that need them the most,” including geographic representation and ZIP code, Sorth said.
The county has identified 17 ZIP codes that are in need of the most services. Of those, 16 are in North County and one is in South County: Lemay’s 63125 ZIP code. But library officials said that while geographic location will be taken into account, any senior citizen in the county can apply no matter where they live.
The GrandPad Senior Tablets that will be available through the program are “pretty amazing,” Sorth said: They include a built-in data connection and wireless internet, so seniors do not need to provide their own internet. The seniors will automatically receive an email address that is already set up on the device.
Music, games, streaming radio, news articles and weather will be available on the tablets, and at the touch of a button the seniors can access St. Louis County Library resources including the online catalog, coronavirus vaccine signup and St. Louis County COVID-19 information. The device comes with a hands-free charging cable, easy-to-use video calling and “tons of ways that our seniors can connect to their caregivers and family members,” Sorth said.
Large, colorful icons help seniors navigate the device, and powerful front-facing speakers offer help for the hearing-impaired.
If the tablet user needs any technical support, a dedicated GrandPad support person is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at the touch of a help button on the home screen.