November 3, 2003 Vol. VIII, No. 6

Merri Pearson (center), director of Cal State Northridge's National Center on Deafness, gives overview of Deaf Senior's Computer Literacy Project at program's October kick-off.

University, Rotary Help Deaf Seniors Cross 'Digital Divide'

Deaf, Hard-of-Hearing Students Teach Internet Skills on Donated Computers

An inventive pilot program—the brainchild of a Cal State Northridge administrator and a Rotary International executive—is helping deaf and hard-of-hearing senior citizens cross the digital divide to the Internet.

The Deaf Senior's Computer Literacy Project is the cooperative effort of Northridge's National Center on Deafness (NCOD) and Rotary International, District 5260. Launched in early October and continuing through November 16, the program pairs 12 seniors with six computer-savvy Cal State Northridge deaf and hard-of-hearing students, who provide each senior with three sessions of personalized computer training.

Using computers donated by Rotary International, seniors receive up to three hours of training per session, depending on level of need. They learn a range of skills, including computer functions, how to use e-mail, how to access the Internet and how to use instant messaging—a means of personal communication for Deaf Internet users that now rivals the use of text telephone (TTY) machines.

"This collaboration aims to relieve the concerns of seniors who feel isolated from technology and the digital world and who commonly are daunted by the task of learning how to use the computer," said Merri Pearson, NCOD director. "Their new Internet skills will introduce them to a whole world of health resources, community programs and neighborhood services."

After striking up a conversation at a grocery warehouse, Pearson and Rotary International Past District Governor John Alexander determined to find a way for NCOD and Rotary to join forces. Within a few weeks, the two had a plan for the Computer Literacy Project.

The student trainers receive $600 stipends, half provided by local Rotary Clubs—including the North Hollywood, Studio City, Sherman Oaks, Granada Hills, Tarzana/Encino and San Fernando Valley Northwest chapters—and half by Rotary International, through its Community Assistance Program.

Local Rotary groups also are contributing an entire year of Internet service and provider service lines for the seniors.

NCOD trained the students: junior Mick Freeland, senior Chris Le, junior Matt Guarino, sophomore Mike Catran, and graduate students Michelle Massey and Erika Leger. Its technical team delivers computers to seniors' homes and installs them along with software and modems.

According to Pearson, Rotary International may seek to replicate the program throughout the world.

The National Center on Deafness has been serving individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing since 1962. Today, the center facilitates student services to the approximately 250 deaf and hard-of-hearing students at Northridge, and operates programs of national significance, including employment and technical assistance projects.

For more information about the project, contact Pearson at (818) 677-2611 or

@csun | November 3, 2003 issue
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