Marie Toth didn't understand how call-waiting worked on her cell phone. The 77-year-old hated hanging up on someone when she got another call. She doesn't have to do that anymore. AT&T sales representative Jonathan Angilusso, who volunteers his time to help older adults navigate their cell phones, showed her what to do.
"Wow," the New Smyrna Beach woman gushed. "Oh, my gosh ... I would have never figured that out."
Angilusso and a handful of other AT&T volunteers offered one-on-one training at the Riverside Pavilion in Port Orange, during one of several training programs the company is hosting to help Florida seniors learn how to make better use of their cell phones.
Three South Florida senior training programs are planned in coming weeks – on September 17 at the Senior Volunteer Services in Fort Lauderdale (954-484-7117, ext. 114), September 29 at the North Regional Library at Broward College's north campus in Coconut Creek (954-201-2640) and October 8 at the Hollywood Branch Library (954-926-2430).
In 2008, AT&T partnered with Oasis Institute, a national non-profit organization aimed at improving the lives of older adults, to offer these types of classes throughout the country.
"We'll get everything from someone who doesn't know how to turn on their phone to someone who wants to learn how to text," said Peggy Remis, national connection program manager for Oasis Institute, based in St. Louis.
AT&T and Oasis want to keep adults 50 years and older up-to-date in the ever-changing tech world where smartphones and lap tops are becoming more common place.
Researchers say older adults are carrying cell phones more than ever before but still remain the smallest population of users.
Aaron W. Smith, a research specialist with the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, said there's a big gap between adults 50 to 64 and those 64 and older.
For adults 50 to 64 years old, about 8 of 10 own a cell phone, but it drops to 6 of 10 for the older group, he said.
The research finds that many older adults say they either have little use for a cell phone or don't understand how to use it.
Several people at the Pavilion told the volunteers they used their cell phones for calling people — but nothing else.
Mildred Davis, 64, of Daytona Beach doesn't bother with texting all together.
"I use it as a regular phone and check voicemail. That's the only thing I want to do with it," she said.
Her friend, Sarah Geathers, 54, of Daytona Beach prefers to chat the old-fashioned way, but her goddaughter sends text messages. Geathers said she has adapted, even if it takes her several minutes to text a short note.
At the event, she learned how to send a photo to her goddaughter. Angilusso took her through the steps, snapped a picture of them together and had her send it to her goddaughter.
"Now, she can respond to this," he said.
"She is really going to respond because I didn't tell her what I was doing today," Geathers joked.