Lessons About Life, Love, and Learning

I've always known that life can change instantly, and it did. A year ago today, my heart shattered into countless jagged pieces when my beloved mother, Emily Hoang Nguyen, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. We enjoyed a morning chat; she was in San Francisco, CA, and I was in San Antonio, TX. She eagerly anticipated having lunch with her youngest grandson, and he was looking forward to taking her to a nearby Peruvian restaurant.

My mother, the teacher

Teaching came naturally to my mother. She taught Vietnamese to Army officers at Fort Bliss, TX, and then spent much of her career helping adult learners gain basic English language skills to navigate life in a new country.

My mother also taught me all I know about thoughtfulness, kindness, and gratitude. She made friends easily, and in part, it was because Mom was never too busy to be kind to others. It was especially important to her to recognize those in service roles, whether grocery store clerks, hotel housekeeping staff, mail carriers, or garbage collectors. Every December, she would dress warmly and wait for the Recology trucks to drive down her narrow street so she could greet the workers with a holiday card and monetary gift. Given her lifelong practice of showing appreciation, it was unsurprising that Mom's final act was writing a thank you note while sitting at the kitchen table.

Profound loss changes you. I am not the same person I was before Feb. 26, 2023, but undoubtedly, I am a better person because of my mother.

My mother, the student

The two handwritten notes pictured above were my mother's reminder to practice using her iPhone and her cheat sheet of common text abbreviations. It touched my heart to find these jottings because while my mother had only mastered basic skills using her smartphone, she clearly wanted to learn and improve.

We've created the digital divide

The digital divide separates those with the tools, access, and abilities from those with some or none. Many of us are so busy awaiting the next tech product release (you fill in the brand name) that we have no idea nearly 22 million older Americans do not have internet access in their homes.

While there's an increasing awareness of the digital divide, older adults continue to be overlooked. And as the numbers of our aging population grow and our reliance on technology increases, the gaps will widen.

Three requests

If you often find yourself serving in a tech support role for older family members, friends, and neighbors, please take the time to help them. Be patient and recognize that for many older adults, much of today's technology wasn't around when they were in school and the workforce. The gestures, motions, and actions that may be second nature to you could require repetition and practice for someone who doesn't use these skills daily.

On the flip side, please don't assume that older adults are disinterested in technology or that they are all novices. A great example is Roy Hooks. He is in his late 80s. In addition to building computers with his grandchildren, he creates video travelogues capturing road trips he takes with his wife, complete with music, original content, historical information, and narration.

And regardless of your role at your company -- whether you are a hiring manager or create technology solutions -- be inclusive in your processes. Ensure older adults are in your candidate pool and hear from them as part of your human-centered design.

Aging is part of life. It's one thing we all have in common. Today and every day, I remember my mother with love and gratitude. See original post here

Kim Nguyen is the founder and principal of Silver Scaffold, Storytellers & Advocates for Older Adults and ASA RISE Program fellow.