In 2013, when Nancy Likens, director of the Soprema Senior Center and Café first came up with the idea of using the café as a job-training site for volunteers from the Medina County Board of Developmental Disabilities, she wasn’t quite sure how the two groups — senior citizens utilizing her center and adults with developmental disabilities — would get along. 

Three years later, the participants are thriving, thanks to the launch of Tech Connect, a series of classes designed to help seniors and people with disabilities learn to text, email and use social media.

“Many of our seniors are losing abilities — they are not as mobile or quick or as able to grasp new knowledge as they used to be, and that can lead to isolation,” Likens said of her Ohio community. “But I think that’s why these two groups as so drawn to each other because it’s a real natural fit.”

Every other week, adults with developmental disabilities — most of them non-verbal — are matched with volunteers from the senior center, who spend the afternoon helping the disabled adults learn to find their voice through the use of a tablet.

The seniors help the participants learn the ins and outs of phrasing sentences, asking questions and negotiating a conversation, while those with a disability help their senior counterparts become more comfortable with technology.

“The seniors are so good at conversation, and as they get older and retire or move to new communities, they may not have quite as many chances to socialize,” Likens said. 

The tablets — developed by Tobii Dynavox, a national company providing touch and eye tracking based assistive technologies — are loaded with apps that can be personalized to help people who cannot speak.

 “I can’t encourage skilled nursing and assisted living communities enough to look into starting a similar program because the friendships that have been formed are priceless,” Likens said.