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March 21, 2002

Lure of e-mail snares senior citizen

Staff Writer

So what's your excuse for not embracing the brave new world of computers and all the hi-tech technology that goes with it.
Richard Hanson is 85 years old and blind, and he's a student enrolled in Imperial Valley College's computer access course.

The course, run by IVC's disabled student programs and services department, is at the Imperial Valley Center for the Blind in El Centro.
"At first I thought all this computer technology was beyond my understanding. I thought it was all too mind-boggling and I'd never get into it," Hanson said Tuesday as he worked with his instructor Paige Turini.
Hanson, who hails originally from a little town outside Tacoma, Wash., is a winter visitor to the Imperial Valley and heard about the course through the grapevine at his R.V. park in El Centro.
Inspired by computer-savvy children and grandchildren, Hanson purchased his first computer recently and decided to take computer courses to gain an in-depth working knowledge.
He concedes the thought of being able to communicate instantly via e-mail with family members was a big part of the lure to learn.
Hanson's eyesight succumbed to macular degeneration two years ago and in his words, "I can see everything; I just don't know what it is I'm seeing because my eyes can't focus."
Macular degeneration is an umbrella term historically used to describe a group of diseases that causes sight sensing cells in the macular zone of the retina to malfunction, resulting in loss of central or detail vision, typically in people 55 and older.
Turini explained that she uses a computer program that is capable of enlarging the screen text to a suitable viewing size for those with impaired sight and that the program is available with a 'talking' text for those without sight.
Guiding Hanson through an on-screen lesson Tuesday morning, Turini smiles broadly as she looks up and says, "I just love it that he doesn't feel it's time to stop learning, he's 85 and he still wants to learn!"
Turini grins when she says, "We'll be doing a summer school computer class when Richard's course finishes at the end of the semester, but I don't think I'm going to be able to convince him to stay through the summer. I'd know I was doing a really good job if he did agree to stay!"
"He's an 85-year-old who doesn't know it," is the way Hanson's wife Nathalie puts it, grinning as she adds, "He just has so much enthusiasm, there isn't anything he won't tackle."
Nathalie, who had dropped by to pick her husband up after his class finished, says she's aware of the concept of the spouse-turned-computer-geek but is adamant there won't be any frequent trips to the computer store for upgrades even though she concedes, "Richard loves computer toys."
"We both have families very much into computers so when they upgrade, we'll get the computer they're getting rid of," Nathalie states firmly. Though judging by the loving way Nathalie looks at her husband when she says this, there is a sense there may be some 'wiggle room' for Richard Hanson to acquire some more 'computer toys' as time goes on.
For those interested in learning to use a computer but think they may have a disability that would prevent them from learning, Turini says she would encourage them to contact IVC at 355-6312.
"It doesn't matter what the disability is, we have some sort of technology that should be able to help."

Classes are conducted in English or Spanish although Turini concedes she may need 'a little help' from her students when it comes to her Spanish.
The final word from Turini is, "There is nothing to keep anybody of any age out of school. If a person is interested in learning, then we'll work around any difficulties."
>> Staff Writer Jennifer Ralton-Smith can be reached at 337-3442 or