UWA student Fatema Khalil has contributed 100 hours over her summer university break supporting research efforts that aim to break down barriers and empower older people in the community through digital skills training.
Completed through a McCusker Centre for Citizenship internship, Fatema – who is studying Engineering Science with a Biomedical specialisation – was matched with the role at the UWA Social Care and Ageing Living (SAGE) Lab, where she was exposed to numerous challenges faced by older people in the community.
“Working on this project has opened my eyes to the struggles and often unheard perspectives of older people in society,” said Fatema.
“I had not realised how many obstacles the elderly must overcome in order to be active members of society and it upset me that they aren’t being as well looked after as they should be,” she said.
“I worked on the Digital Literacy project, which focussed on understanding and improving older people’s interaction with technology. The ways in which digital literacy can be taught to older people was a large aspect of this,” said Fatema.
The SAGE Lab’s Digital Learning applied work is based in findings developed through a project funded by the Australian Research Council that examined the importance of digital connection for older Australians.
SAGE Lab Director Professor Loretta Baldassar found that a lack of “digital citizenship” in older people creates barriers to accessing information and making informed independent decisions about their lives, an issue that has also been highlighted by the Australian Human Rights Commission.
Fatema was thankful to have the opportunity to help break down some of these barriers by supporting SAGE Lab’s research.
“The most rewarding element of my internship was knowing that everything I was working on was going towards a government report which could very likely be acted upon. Knowing that I took part in research that aids the elderly now and in the future is very gratifying,” she said.
Dr Catriona Stevens, Manager of Research Engagement, UWA SAGE Lab, said “Fatema brought skills from her undergraduate training combined with her own wonderful energy and commitment to learning to her placement with the SAGE Lab. She made a solid and meaningful contribution to the team’s research reports.”
The internship experience has shown Fatema the importance of engaging with the wider community and that students have the power to create and support real change.
“I believe it is very important to be aware of community needs. As able-minded students, partaking in programs such as the McCusker Centre for Citizenship internship and student group volunteering could be what is needed to make an impactful change for the better,” she says.