Reflection on Service: Tech Cafes

By: Debbie Steen

Reflection on Service: Tech Cafes

Hello friends.

For the past month, our summer intern from the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, Debbie Steen, has taken the opportunity to volunteer at tech cafes with volunteers from the Milestones Day School & Transitional Program. Here she reflects on her experiences at two tech cafes in the Fenway neighborhood.

Mondays and Wednesdays

Moreville House, Wednesdays

Every Monday and Wednesday, I meet staff and volunteers for about ninety minutes to help elders with any piece of mobile technology ranging from their phones, tablets, or computers. LBFE works in conjunction with high school students who are on the Autism spectrum to aid us in tech cafes. This gives the students the opportunity to get out and figure out what they want to do while transitioning from high school to their future work goals. The students seem to enjoy helping out the residents, and the residents are always very appreciative of our help. I love the tech cafes because while these students are in high school, they are very patient, and I think that helps the elders not feel so anxious about asking for help.

Language barriers

While I love the tech cafes, I feel that I could help a bit more. It is hard because at the tech cafes, everyone has a great amount of vision, so they do not need the assistive technology that I use on a day to day basis. So, when I feel I can offer my help is I will verbally tell a student or volunteer what I do, when dealing with a tech problem. For instance, one of the residents needed help creating an account with an app called We Chat. Both the student and I had not heard of the app, and I allowed the student volunteer to use my phone because his died. I was then able to try to figure out verbally what was going on. I felt bad though because the resident could speak very little English, and the student and I could not speak Mandarin at all. We downloaded Google Translate on my phone, so that perhaps we could have a better understanding of how to help her. It didn’t work. Now, I realize that there are going to be situations where we may not be able to answer everyone’s questions, but I still felt bad just the same. The good thing is that the elder was very happy that we attempted to help her, and ended the visit with a hand shake. That made me feel better.

Social Connection

The tech cafes have been a great experience because it’s the same elders who attend every week at the same two locations. I enjoy talking with the residents as well as the students who come to help us out. In fact, on Monday, I was talking with a woman who is ninety-four-years-old. I asked her if she needed help with her phone or tablet, and she said she was all set. She was telling me that she met Martin Luther King, so, I wanted to hear what he was like, and she was telling me about how nice his house was. Then, we just talked about whatever we wanted, and it was a very pleasant conversation. I think that is really what I get out of the tech cafes; good conversations, and for the residents at both locations. They know that we are all there to help if they need it or if they don’t, it’s a chance for the residents to have coffee and chat. That has been my role, and that’s fine by me.


Debbie is a student at UMASS Boston will graduate in 2018 with a Bachelors of Arts degree in Human Services. She used JAWS, a screen reader for the Windows operating systems, to write this blog post.

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