We are a team of people from various walks of life and locations. We didn’t know each other before the #EUvsVirus Hackathon but we all came to this with a willingness to help. We have been inspired by various stories of loneliness among the cocooning elderly around the world. These are some of the stories from us, the team members:
Michelle: As a volunteer in the West of Ireland, I realised that there are many elderly people currently cocooning who are disconnected from the rest of us, very isolated, lonely, sometimes even anxious. One day we got a call from "Eva" (name changed). Eva's story inspired me: She is in her 80s, visually-impaired, lives alone, and was anxious to find some audiobooks to help her get through this isolation. Although her son and his family live close to her, she is still spending a lot of time alone. All libraries were closed. She was anxious and found difficult to sleep. I launched a call via FaceBook & Twitter and contacted a librarian I know who is working from home. Other volunteers tried to find audiobooks as well. In the end, I managed to find her over 15 audiobooks and a few more came from other volunteers. She was so thankful! I realised we need to do more for the wellbeing of the elderly, especially those who like Eva, don't use the internet, and might be alone and/or with visual or hearing impairment - which makes this confinement even more difficult for them.
Matthieu Schiffmann: I work for elderly people. The average age is 80 years old. During this difficult period, I felt these people were feeling alone. They did not understand why the government was asking for social distancing, why their families could not visit them etc. I wanted to find a solution to help them getting through this complicated period with the feeling they are part of the entire society._
Eibhilin: I work in EU policy and have worked on ageing and innovation. I felt that there is a disproportional amount of services and innovations focused on treatments and vaccines and more could be around wellbeing and helping the vulnerable groups in isolation with overcoming loneliness and fear that comes with coronavirus.
Rudi Schoenhuber: retired physician, neurologist, from Italy. I describe myself as an expert patient,who suffers from cancer, diabetes, polyneuropathy, hypertension, atrial fibrillation. I am a babyboomer, 72 years old, living alone. I work as a volunteer in patient organizations and self-help groups and in organisation such as the Cochrane Neurological Field and Choosing wisely, both wanting to increased shared decision making of patients with their health care professionals, based on evidence and trust
What it does
Our project aims to bring much-needed support to our elderly citizens who are cocooning, especially the digitally-excluded and visually-impaired who are in complete social isolation due to the Covid-19 crisis.
One of the main driving forces behind this project directly relates to the points advocated on the EU "age platform" website, in particular, "Physical distancing should not lead to social isolation." This is a critical issue regarding our elderly population across Europe and many places around the world. With the current Covid-19 crisis, hundreds of thousands of elderly persons are now cocooning, many of whom self-isolating alone. Loneliness is a public health as well as a social matter. In the course of the last few months, we have sadly lost many older persons to the virus, many of whom dying alone away from their loved ones in care homes and hospitals. We need to focus on the wellbeing of those who are currently self-isolating, bearing in mind that their situation is likely to last for another few months if not more. Our elderly citizens don't just need food and protection from viruses - they need to feel connected, to be entertained, to feel creative or to just relax and ease their anxieties. We also need to give them a voice and restore their status as "valued and valuable members of our societies" (ibid).
Further, as noted on the above-quoted EU webpage, while the majority of us can avail of digital social networking in order to communicate and stay connected during the current lockdown, many older people do not have access to digital media for one reason or another. Rather than systematically try to bring them into the digital world, we should also adapt ourselves and our policies to their various needs. Thus, "Government and local support is required to help digitally excluded people have access to available technology" (ibid).
With this in mind, we would like to bring the focus on one particularly disadvantaged portion of the elderly population, namely, those with visual impairment/blindness. Many of them are not only entirely digitally-excluded and living alone, but they are also missing critical services that have closed due to the lockdown such as library services for audiobooks in CD format. Europe needs to take a proactive role in supporting the wellbeing of the elderly with visual impairment, bearing in mind that in Europe, one in three senior citizens over 65 faces sight loss [http://www.euroblind.org/about-blindness-and-partial-sight/facts-and-figures]
At this critical time, let us give our senior citizens a voice and restore their status as "valued and valuable members of our societies".
How we built it
We’ve conceived a two-way plan:
First, a semi-automated phone service, based on a dual pull/push service, will provide a repertory of audio content to choose from, either as a call in or a call-back service. The recordings, for example a song, a story or news, will be crowd-sourced and curated. Callers will also have the possibility to record their own Covid-19 story, thus becoming our own story-tellers. We've created a map of choices for the phone line services using gloomaps - see attached file.
The second initiative, based on our current experience as volunteers with the digitally-excluded elderly, is a EU-wide advocacy initiative to support the wellbeing of elderly persons who are digitally excluded and visually impaired. The idea is to partner with libraries and community-based support groups in order to conduct a simple but vital and more immediate audiobook and CD delivery service.
Even with the lockdown and the closure of libraries, at least one staff member could be in charge of collecting books/braille books/audiobooks for those who wish to avail of them, and these would be distributed using a mobile delivery service and/or with the help of volunteer communities. For those among the elderly who wish to avail of the CD audiobook service but don't have a CD player, a batch of CD players (adapted to the visually-impaired elderly population) could be purchased by libraries using fund-raising initiatives or government funds.
This second part of the plan would therefore also provide an alternate option for those who may not avail of the phone service.
BUSINESS MODEL We would provide a basic map of potential needs for elderly people as a starting package for people who want to provide help for elderly people. Then, for example, someone in Germany who wants to implement this plan in their community could follow a simple process to find the needed audio-content: contact local libraries for audio books, find travelling podcasts in their native language, crowd-source in their communities of artists, actors, etc.. and could thus adapt the repertoire.
We believe our project can be linked to the EU' Sustainable Development Goals. Our idea would fit under SDG 3 the "health goal". Goal 3 of the SDGs is to: "Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages." Target 3.4 is: "By 2030, reduce by one third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being."
In addition to providing much-needed support to the digitally-excluded and visually-impaired, we believe that this could be a driving force within the audiobook industry to produce a wider choice of materials for them. If libraries wee to receive additional funds, this would also help the economy as they could hire more staff at a time when unemployment is on the rise. The implementation of the phone service could also be an idea to create additional employment.
Ultimately, ideas that truly serve the community are good because they help maintain a community spirit.
Challenges we ran into
We are a team of people from various walks of life and locations. We are not a company or an organisation coming to the Hackathon with a product. We do not have any technological skills so it was difficult for us to build our project from scratch. We mostly had grassroots knowledge.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
We didn’t know each other before the #EUvsVirus Hackathon but we all came to this with a willingness to help. Bearing the above challenges in mind, and that we were all facing our own personal issues during the Hackathon (health, work, family, time difference, etc), we created and maintained a warm, friendly and mutually supportive team. We are proud of ourselves.
What we learned
In our researches during the weekend, we found that globally, at least 2.2 billion people have a vision impairment or blindness. In Europe, one in three senior citizens over 65 faces sight loss. With this project, we will provide comprehensive and safely-delivered support to senior citizens affected by sight loss.
We learnt about other initiatives both within and outside the EU Hackathon - for example, a fund-raiser in Ireland found to provide tablets to nursing homes where people are entirely isolated from their families. We also found various websites, such as these: https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/web-accessibility http://www.euroblind.org/about-blindness-and-partial-sight/facts-and-figures and even more relevant: https://www.age-platform.eu/policy-work/news/covid-19-older-persons’-rights-must-be-equally-protected-during-pandemic
We learnt about various Hackathon digital projects aiming at supporting the vulnerable populations during the Covid-19 crisis, but with the realisation that security and privacy are two critical aspects which digital projects need to seriously and cautiously address.
AND...Some of us learnt about "xmind" from our team mate Rudi - a tool which he used to jot down his ideas, namely the reasons and implications of loneliness.
What's next for Community Cocooning Support
- We need to team up with technical experts and EU experts in various areas of advocacy, governance, culture, in order to implement this project.
- We need to gather forces so that we can take better care of our elderly population.
- The EU’s Monitoring and Assessment Framework for the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing can be used to assess the impact of our work