Study Documents Social Impact of OATS Programs

Since 2004, OATS has taught over 12,000 free classes to very positive reviews from participants.  But without independent evaluation by an outside party, it's been hard to know the real impact or benefit of the programs.  Now, thanks to a study conducted by the New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM), we have the first systematic analysis of the social impact of the OATS program. 

With generous support from the Fan Fox and Leslie R. Samuels Foundation, NYAM research specialist Paula Gardner followed 75 OATS participants before, during, and six months after their involvement in OATS trainings, seminars, and Senior Planet activities.  Her findings document a pattern of powerful transformation for participants: 93 percent were still using computers regularly six months after the program, 65 percent had more contact with friends and family, and 71 percent were researching health information online

Even more descriptive are the dozens of quotations from participants that are included throughout the report.  One 85-year-old woman, for example, said "I'm so excited, I'm in the 21st century now. I can't wait to see what's next."  Gardner interviewed participants, OATS staff, community site partners, and other stakeholders to gather a comprehensive picture of the work that OATS does in the community. The study has been cited by the Pew Internet Project as a great resource for those interested in learning more about how seniors use the internet, and was the centerpiece of an article published in the Journal of Community Informatics.  Click here to see a PDF version of the entire study.


OATS Featured in the FCC National Broadband Plan

The National Broadband Plan released by the Federal Communications Commission on March 15th prominently features OATS as a model program promoting broadband adoption and inclusion by senior citizens. 

“OATS has developed a model to engage older adults with information technology by aggregating useful, trustworthy information,” states the FCC.  “Senior Planet is a grassroots digital community seeded with trusted resources and improved by users.”

The National Broadband Plan calls for the creation of a National Digital Literacy Corps to help seniors and other groups get the skills and support necessary to benefit from adopting broadband technology.  “The FCC has laid the groundwork for major progress toward fast, affordable, accessible broadband for all Americans,” said Executive Director Tom Kamber.  “We are thrilled that they chose to include OATS in the plan, and we look forward to working with the FCC in making sure older Americans fully benefit from the plan’s recommendations.”

Download a copy of the plan here.

Watch the video of Garrison Phillips speaking about OATS and his experience with technology at the FCC Digital Inclusion Summit.

OATS Executive Director Speaks at FCC Workshop

In an effort to address the issue of making broadband more accessible to underserved populations, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) held a workshop to gain a better understanding of what efforts have worked in increasing broadband adoption. OATS Executive Director Tom Kamber became the voice for seniors nationwide when he spoke of the success OATS has had teaching seniors how to use technology.

Low utilization of the Internet by seniors at home, due to lack of skills and access, has reached catastrophic proportions. The FCC hopes to address this issue by creating programs that improve technology skills among seniors. In order to be successful though, broadband adoption programs for seniors need to be developed specifically with seniors in mind.

The workshop gave Dr. Kamber the chance to outline the successful program OATS has created. Focusing on senior-friendly practices, professional services, and the importance of forming partnerships with local organizations, OATS has developed teaching a model that has served over 5,000 seniors in New York City. The success of the OATS program demonstrates that “it is legitimate and important to carve out seniors as a targeted population and dedicate resources to those individuals.” OATS hopes to serve as a model for nationwide programs focused on increasing Internet usage among seniors. This workshop was a big step in demonstrating to the FCC that programs that bring seniors and the Internet together are both achievable and necessary.


Seniors Receive Laptops and Subsidized Broadband Access

Many seniors who have participated in OATS classes are aware of the benefits these classes have had on their lives. With the help of the Fan Fox & Leslie R. Samuels Foundation and the New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM), OATS is in the process of conducting research that supports the anecdotes of OATS participants.

Taking an evidence-based approach, the project seeks to demonstrate the social impact OATS programs have on its participants. By studying the impacts and outcomes of the OATS technology program, all parties involved hope to facilitate dialog among senior service providers in New York City.

The project focused on four sites in New York City as well as several mobility-impaired individuals in their homes. The sites that were a part of the project were Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center, Samuel Field Y, Castle Hill Senior Center, and SAGE. A total of 93 seniors participated in the project. Since not all participants had access to computers and/or Internet in their homes, a “Give $100/Get $100” model was developed. Participants who did not have a computer were asked to pay $100 towards a new laptop and pay for Internet access in their homes. Participants who already had computers were given $100 to subsidize their Internet costs. Students participated in various OATS classes including Basic Computing, Advanced Computing, and Workforce Applications. The classes met twice a week for ten weeks.

Throughout the course of the project, researchers from NYAM conducted surveys, telephone and in-person interviews with seniors and site staff, and classroom observations were carried out to track the individual’s progress.

There were two main goals associated with the project. The first was to provide a full range of OATS programs to the four sites. This included lab-based training, intergenerational programming, at-home services, and Internet and hardware support. The second goal was for NYAM to examine the impact the program had on senior participants in terms of information gained during the ten weeks and the social outcomes.

The first goal was successfully completed in June when the computer classes were completed. NYAM is currently compiling information and completing the research component of the project.


Senior Planet Blog-a-thon Brings Thousands of New Users to Site

OATS celebrated Older Americans Month this past May by engaging hundreds of older adults, their families, and communities in promoting the voices of older Americans, while also raising awareness of the website 

The OATS Blog-a-thon invited dozens of older adults to blog regularly throughout Older Americans Month on SeniorPlanet. OATS trained and supported the bloggers, who wrote on topics ranging from their daily routine, family histories, and issues facing older Americans. Much like a walk-a-thon, participants recruited sponsors who pledged a certain level of donation for every blog post.

The Blog-a-thon was a big success; traffic on SeniorPlanet doubled during the month of May and a lot of great blogs were created on SeniorPlanet. The participants gained valuable experience in blogging and were able to see how communities could be built on the Internet. Many of the participants are still avid bloggers on SeniorPlanet. To read senior blogs or to create your own blog please visit


Video Conferencing With Latin Jazz Artist Arturo O’Farrill

On June 12, 2009 GRAMMY winning Latin Jazz artist Arturo O'Farrill gave a live performance via web-cam to members of Seniors from Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center in Manhattan, the Samuel Field Y in Queens and the Castle Hill Senior Center in The Bronx watched on large screens while Mr. O'Farrill played his original music.

Participants were able to ask questions and the conversation varied from Mr. O'Farrill's musical influences to his thoughts on the relationship between Cuba and The United States. The webinar demonstrated how technology could be used to connect people and bring people together who would not otherwise meet. Even Mr. O’Farrill was amazed that technology could connect everyone to his living room making it possible for him share his music. When the performance concluded the seniors had lots of questions about how they could connect to their family and friends in similar ways.

This was not the first webinar OATS has held. Past guests have included Abby Stokes, author of the book “Is This Thing On?” and OATS’ executive director Tom Kamber. These webinars have allowed seniors a chance to interact with their peers while gaining insight into the topics discussed by guests. OATS plans on conducting more webinars in the future and believes they are a valuable tool for creating a community of older adults in New York City.