"Why do I have to pester my children to get my covid pass?"

Charities denounce "mistreatment" suffered by older people in access to digital procedures even when they are mandatory

Marta Rodríguez Carrera / Quim Riera
4 min
Many grandmothers discover that the mobile phone is the way to be closer to the family.

BarcelonaAs every Friday two friends queue up at the cafeteria after having gone for their hour's walk to keep their "legs and mind" in shape. The ritual is the same as always, but today they have their covid pass with them: this Friday it will be compulsory to show it to access bars, restaurants, gyms and care homes. Rosa Casas and Núria Garcia are 72 and 75, and they are totally independent, but, like a large number of elderly people – "you can call us old ladies", they say – the need to obtain this QR code to continue living a normal life has been an added concern for them. "My daughter did it for me when she came home, because even though I tried I couldn't get it," complains Garcia, who says she "gets angry" when she has to "bother the children" to get them to solve her problems. Casas was helped by her husband, who had taken an "internet course" for the elderly.

Not far from the cafeteria, the sun begins to warm the benches in a square that is a meeting point for older people all day long. There are those who are chatting and those who are resting between strolling up and down the street. They don't all have their covid pass yet. "I wasn't interested in that paper because I don't go to bars and I don't plan to go abroad," says Julián Rodríguez, 90 years old and without a smartphone or computer with internet connection at home. His children told him they would download it for him, but with after reading news about the collapse of the Health Department's website, they put it off. "They don't live here, but they might come round tomorrow. I'm in no hurry," he admits. Who does have his covid pass is José Ruiz, 88 years old and in the same circumstances as Julián. He explains that he took advantage of a visit to the health centre to ask if they could print it and, although the staff grumbled, he got it.

Away from the digital world

"It's becoming increasingly difficult for us old people to be active and fend for ourselves", replies Gabriel Mas, who at 84 years old says that he downloaded his own certificate because the people at the care home and his children taught him to be "autonomous with his mobile phone". However, he complains that it is difficult because the keys and the computer screen are so small that he often mistypes and has to start the process again. "I didn't understand the whole sick or recovery thing on the certificate. It's definitely not properly explained for old people".

Sònia Cortada lives in Barcelona and explains that she has a few octogenarian relatives waiting in the Empordà for her to download their certificate. She tried to do it remotely but "it was a drama over the phone with so much data and so many numbers". Aware of the problems of technology, Marisa Garcia has decided to keep personal belonging to her parents and a childless uncle who lives alone – all between 79 and 85 – on her phone. "This way I'm aware of their appointments and it's been easy for me to download the certificate," she says. Her mother, Maria Sabaté, is in no doubt: "As we don't understand mobile phones, we have our daughter as a secretary," she says, laughing.

They are victims of the so-called digital divide, which the pandemic has only made bigger. The vast majority of procedures are now online: from banking to making an appointment at the clinic, applying for social assistance or buying a ticket for a show. This is not a problem that only affects older people, but also other groups that have been left out of the technology learning process or do not have internet devices. 23% of people aged between 64 and 75 do not use basic digital services because they do not know how to use them. There is no data for the over-75s, but from foundation Firagran claims that the percentage could be over 60%.

The Federació de Associacions de Gent Gran de Catalunya (Fatec) denounces that the virtuality of the procedures is basically "a mistreatment" of the 1.5 million people over 65. "To require an obligatory covid pass without providing a service is the icing on the cake; it shows how we are mistreated and forgotten ", the organization's spokesman, Enric Ollé, affirms. He points out that the Health Department would have "to send the document to people's homes or offer help at health centres". In a telematic meeting this week with 50 care homes, Fatec has asked for help for people who want to complete online procedures, such as downloading their covid pass.

Argimon's request

However, Catalan Health minister Josep Maria Argimon, already warned that primary care is already being overworked and cannot take care of these procedures and appealed to use friends and family. The problem is the people who have no network, says Núria Gibert, deputy mayor for Social Rights of Sant Cugat del Vallès City Council, which during the pandemic decided to open a "digital accompaniment programme" to respond to a "demand" detected among the elderly and those lacking computer skills. Every day a mobile unit, consisting of an administrative worker with a computer and a printer, moves to one of the neighbourhoods and assists those affected by this digital divide to make all kinds of arrangements, now also a covid certificate. "If they don't have a mobile phone, they are printed out on paper", the councillor says, who criticises the fact that the Generalitat "is unaware of the reality on the ground" when it migrates procedures relating to basic rights online "without having made a planned transition".

Mireia Fernández-Ardèvol, a researcher at Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, also states that the pandemic has meant an increase in inequalities, and older people without digital skills have been "even further removed from the system". "There are initiatives from the public sector to deal with this problem, but we need to look for a universal design (of devices and applications or websites) that is also suitable for the elderly. Technology is always designed for people with digital skills, but never for people who don't have them, and this creates serious inequalities," says Fernández-Ardèvol, "We usually only think about older people to solve their problems. We should change this mentality and start thinking about them from the start, adapting devices, websites and applications so that they can use them without any problems from the start," says the researcher.