Annie Roberson has been taking computer classes at the Senior...

Annie Roberson has been taking computer classes at the Senior Source in Dallas to help with her job as a community liaison at the Disciple City Church. Credit: Dallas Morning News/TNS/Rebecca Slezak

Becoming a senior doesn’t mean spending the rest of your life on the proverbial porch swing. Most want to stay connected to the world, and today’s technology offers that advantage.

Three seniors have found that taking technology classes has helped them in innumerable ways, particularly to stay closer to family, succeed in their jobs and maximize their mobile phone use for travel and entertainment. Better yet, the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where they live, offers a wealth of classes at senior centers, libraries, community colleges, assisted living facilities and organizations serving seniors such as the Senior Source and AARP.

Maybe making a TikTok video isn’t on the bucket list — yet — but knowing how to text with friends, Zoom with family or have a telemedicine visit with a doctor are excellent skills for all ages. Here’s how these Dallas-Fort Worth seniors are conquering unfamiliar territory and making technology work for them.

A roadside epiphany

Annie Roberson, 75, was driving down Harry Hines Boulevard one day and saw a sign for the Senior Source, Dallas’ nonprofit organization offering a variety of services to area seniors. "I turned the car around and went inside. I found out they offered technology classes. I signed up and brought a couple of friends to join me."

"I wasn’t prepared for this [new] technology, but at the same time I don’t want to be left behind. I want to learn," she says. Roberson has lived in her West Dallas neighborhood for nearly two decades and works part time as the community liaison at the Disciple City Church in Dallas.

The first two classes she took focused on basic tech safety, avoiding scams and computer basics. Next on her list: learning Excel to help keep track of bills, becoming proficient in PowerPoint and conquering Publisher so she can design the church’s quarterly newsletter.

Roberson says she used to have a Dell computer but recently switched to a Mac. "It really helps to practice," she says. She also upgraded to an iPhone, which she is learning to use thanks to her 43-year-old daughter who suggested that she get one.

"During the pandemic, it was handy to have Zoom technology," Roberson says. It not only kept her connected to family but was helpful for her Bible study group of 10 women. "It was especially great for folks who had mobility issues," she says.

The Senior Source also helped with her Zoom skills, including looking good on video. "We learned that the best light for a Zoom session was natural light," she says.

Roberson used her computer skills recently to help celebrate her brother’s 80th birthday on Zoom. Her niece connected family members from Louisiana and Texas.

"Technology brings us together," she says. "If you are willing to learn, you are halfway there."

Tech comfort zone

Mary Higbie, 82, is one active senior. She is the administrator for the Irving Heritage Society, a museum guide for the Mustangs of Las Colinas Museum and involved in the arts and history of Irving. She relies on an Android cellphone and her year-old Lenovo laptop with Windows 10 for projects.

Higbie says she understands how seniors are sometimes hesitant to try new technology.

"Kids are not afraid — they just plunge in. They grew up with it," she says. "But for us, you are afraid you will do something to break it. Those of us who are more mature tend to be more cautious."

She has benefited from computer classes at the Irving Public Library, including Excel and general computer classes. She notes that the Irving Heritage Center, the city’s senior center, also offers classes. "You can get comfortable with technology in these classes. The more you use a computer, the more comfortable you get."

Choosing which technology you need is up to you.

"I’ve learned that when I ask a younger person what I need, they think about what they need," she says. "I don’t need all the bells and whistles like the kids do. They talk on the iPhone watches and get their blood pressure. Some of us don’t want or need these extras. It’s a level of complexity that frightens us."

Higbie also took a class on cellphones offered by AARP. "They distributed a phone to each of us" for use in the class, she says. The instructor then walked all the participants through different exercises, teaching them various techniques.

Some of Higbie’s friends rely on their iPhones for more than just texts and easily compose longer emails. "I can’t do that. The keyboard is so small, it would take me forever. But I know many people use their cellphones for everything. When I watch Irving City Council meetings, I see that all the speakers are reading from notes on their cellphones."

She sees that mobile boarding passes are handy for plane travel, and scannable tickets are de rigueur for sports and entertainment.

"Computers have opened up a wealth of information for people," Higbie says. "If you don’t learn computer skills, you are missing out on many opportunities."

She says that in her Irving Heritage Society job, she sends out a lot of email blasts. "The computer has become a necessity for communication these days."

Higbie agrees with Roberson about the popularity of Zoom, particularly during the pandemic. "Our family now has a Zoom every Sunday night. There’s about 15 of us. It keeps us connected," she says.

She advises taking a class specifically designed for seniors. "Probably if someone is learning new things, it is helpful to go to a group where the others are of similar age. The questions will all be the same. That’s why I liked the AARP classes so much," she says.

Silver linings

Sandra Lopez, 55, worked as a medical assistant for 26 years but did not learn computer skills because the doctor she worked for used only paper. When the doctor cut back his hours in 2019, she was let go.

Now what? The mother of four and grandmother of 12 looked around for other options and discovered computer classes at the Senior Source.

She was comfortable using a cellphone, but "I didn’t even know how to turn on a computer," she says. Her grandkids gave her some advice, "but then they would get annoyed with me. ‘You need to do it yourself, Grandma. You have to learn yourself,’ they would say."

Now, says Lopez, "I can open a computer and do a search," and her son recently got her a laptop. "Even though I’m not an expert yet, I want to work and use my computer skills," she says. And thanks to the classes she took, "I’m not scared to open a computer."

"I lost time not learning the computer before now, but then again it wasn’t needed in my old job," she says. And the fact that she’s bilingual adds to her skill set.

Now she’s gained confidence from having a laptop and a mobile phone. "Everyone needs both," she says.

‘Never too late to learn’

John Murphy joined Senior Source as an employment coach last year. The center offers free computer classes every two months, both in person and online.

"We try to make sure our students are staying current with the latest technology," Murphy says. "There are obstacles and hurdles for seniors when they first get started. It’s a lot of info to process."

"Even I have issues with technology sometimes," the 35-year-old says. "But it’s never too late to learn."

The classes start with the basics such as putting in a password and pressing the send button. Oftentimes, his students will press a button and then ask nervously, "What did I just do?"

Technology and being unaware of how something works can be scary, Murphy says.

"The seniors keep me on my toes," he says. "They didn’t grow up with this technology. It’s foreign territory. They are definitely more confident after they take a class. You walk away with more than you knew."