Bridging the “Digital Divide” in Rural America: Microsoft and West Virginia Create First State Technology Training Initiative for Older Adults

CHARLESTON, W. Va., July 22, 1999 — In an effort to bridge the
“digital divide”
by further promoting computer literacy among senior citizens, Microsoft Corp. today joined with West Virginia Gov. Cecil H. Underwood and Marshall Technology Institute to announce the new Seniors Technology Training Program. The program will bring technology access and training to thousands of seniors throughout the state, with the goal of empowering them to enhance their lives and the lives of others by learning, applying and teaching technology.

Microsoft and the government of West Virginia developed the Seniors Technology Training Program in response to the lack of technology available in largely rural communities like those found across West Virginia and to the rapidly growing population of senior citizens in the state. The program is being implemented with a grant from Microsoft of over $125,000 worth of computer hardware, software, curriculum and consulting support (product values based on estimated retail prices). In addition to Microsoft’s support, the West Virginia Bureau of Senior Services will direct the program and the Marshall Technology Institute will administer and coordinate the initial training phase.

“The digital divide is fast becoming a serious problem for seniors in America. Many avenues are closed to older Americans because of a lack of computer skills, specifically in the job market,”
said Craig Spiezle, director of the Microsoft Senior Initiative.
“Seniors are in danger of being left behind on the information superhighway, but today the roads are open to them in West Virginia, enhancing their independent living, creativity and community.”

According to a recently released Department of Commerce study,
“Falling Through the Net,”
West Virginia ranks 49th in percentage of the state’s population using computers, at a low 17.6 percent. Despite a dramatic surge in the number of Americans connected to the Internet, use of the Internet among older West Virginians remains behind the technological revolution.

The pilot program has launched four sites in West Virginia, in Charleston, Martinsburg, Fairmont and Rupert. Once the initiative is under way, Gov. Underwood hopes to expand the program throughout the state and revolutionize West Virginia’s technological status by bringing technology to rural America. The program will play a significant role in allowing seniors to maintain independence in their communities.

“Seniors today are more active than ever before in many different professional, community, personal and technological arenas,”
said Gov. Underwood, the nation’s oldest governor and a 77-year-old senior citizen.
“The new West Virginia Seniors Technology Training Program will provide West Virginia senior citizens with the training and resources they need to be empowered through technology. This project is an invaluable tool to use technology where you might least expect it and to improve the future of West Virginia.”

The program is expected to benefit approximately 2,000 senior citizens within the first year. Peer technology counselors will teach classes on a wide range of Microsoft® platforms. The classes will be low-intensity, providing one-on-one instruction and developing numerous
“onramps”
to the information superhighway for West Virginia’s aging population. Future plans include intergenerational classes and programs, allowing technology to fill both the digital and generational divides and helping future generations of the largely rural state.

“This program is great for seniors. Using a computer has helped my career and has been invaluable for keeping in touch with my friends and relatives in Ontario,”
said 65-year-old Marilyn D. Tipler of Charleston, a recent graduate of the program who was selected to become a Senior Technology Trainer.
“Technology has enhanced my life, and I’m looking forward to sharing my computer knowledge with my peers so they too can discover the exciting possibilities technology provides.”

The Microsoft grant includes 40 multimedia computers with 17-inch monitors from Dell Computer Corp.; each computer will be loaded with a Microsoft product library that includes the Windows® 98 operating system, Microsoft Plus! 98, Microsoft Office 2000 Premium, the Microsoft Encarta® Reference Suite multimedia encyclopedia, the Microsoft Encarta Africana encyclopedia, Microsoft Golf 99, Microsoft Natural® Keyboard Elite, the Microsoft IntelliMouse® Pro pointing device, Microsoft Works Suite 99 and a selection of Microsoft Press® training materials, including the newly published
“Grown-Up’s Guide to Computing,”
co-authored by Spiezle, and the instructional video
“Opening New Windows on the World.”

The Microsoft Senior Initiative is a program aimed at bridging
“digital and generational divides”
by providing access to PC literacy training technology and tools for people of all ages worldwide. The initiative’s Web site, Seniors and Technology , is a resource for seniors, their families and communities about the exciting possibilities that can be realized through the use of technology.

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq
“MSFT”
) is the worldwide leader in software for personal computers. The company offers a wide range of products and services for business and

personal use, each designed with the mission of making it easier and more enjoyable for people to take advantage of the full power of personal computing every day.

Microsoft, Windows, Encarta, Natural, IntelliMouse and Microsoft Press are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Microsoft Corp. in the United States and/or other countries. Other product and company names herein may be trademarks of their respective owners.

Note to editors: If you are interested in viewing additional information on Microsoft, please visit the Microsoft Web page at http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/ on Microsoft’s corporate information pages.

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