A Devex event in partnership with AARP

Overcoming barriers to digital inclusion for older persons

September 22, 2021 — 1 p.m. ET | 7 p.m. CET

AARP Foundation

About the Event

The ability to connect online has grown into a crucial part of everyday life for people all over the world, helping empower citizens and improve their daily lives through everything from virtual medical visits to maintaining family connections and online advocacy for protecting human rights. However, many older persons are unable to reap the benefits of the digital world or access basic health, financial, and social tools.

While hundreds of millions went online over the past five years, almost half of the world’s population still lacks access to the internet. In some low-income countries, fewer than one in five people were connected in 2019. Data shows that many older adults have online access, but often fail to fully utilize digital tools due to barriers such as usability, awareness, adoption support, and trust. Without improving digital inclusion, this threatens to widen inequality and exacerbate the digital divide. It’s imperative that digital solutions do not exclude older persons if we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals while leaving no-one behind. But there are many sides to the digital divide — related to age, disability, gender, geography, and socioeconomic status. Older people in particular often face barriers including digital literacy and inclusive design — an issue that will become more prominent as the world’s population ages. By 2050, it is estimated that more than 2 billion people will be aged 60 or over, more than double the number in the year 2000.

On Wednesday, Sept. 22, Devex and AARP co-hosted an ecosystem event on the sidelines of the 76th annual United Nations General Assembly, exploring how we can advance digital equity and inclusion by looking at solutions to close existing gaps among different user groups, particularly older persons. The event also looked at the key role of multi-stakeholder platforms in advancing the U.N. Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation and their role in harnessing expertise and knowledge sharing from across sectors.


1:00 p.m. ET

Welcome & introduction by Raj Kumar, President and Editor-in-Chief, Devex

1:05 p.m. ET

Opening Remarks with Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, Officer-in Charge, Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology

1:10 p.m. ET

Panel Discussion


• Tom Kamber, Executive Director, Older Adults Technology Services
• Frances West, Founder, FrancesWestCo, and Former Chief Accessibility Officer, IBM
• Dr. Matthias von Schwanenflügel, Director General of the Division of Demographic Change, Older People and Welfare in the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, Germany
• Lourdes Montenegro, Lead, Digital Sector Transformation, World Benchmarking Alliance

• Raj Kumar, President and Editor-in-Chief, Devex

1:55 p.m. ET

Closing Remarks: Next Steps and Intended Outcomes


• Alison Bryant, Senior Vice President of Research & Enterprise Lead for Technology & Digital Equity, AARP
• Raj Kumar, President & Editor-in-Chief, Devex


Alison Bryant

Alison Bryant

Senior Vice President of Research & Enterprise Lead for Technology & Digital Equity, AARP

Dr. Alison Bryant leads the world-class Research Center and heads up the Technology & Digital Equity impact area for AARP. In these roles, she is focused on helping the organization, consumers, and external stakeholders understand, engage with, and innovate for the 50+ consumers and their families. She is a renowned expert on the impact of media, technology, and play on consumers. Prior to AARP, she was the founder and co-CEO of PlayScience, a research and design firm that led innovation around branding, content creation and development for major global companies. Under her leadership, PlayScience partnered with dozens of marquee family brands, including Sesame Workshop, Disney, Girl Scouts, and many others. Alison was also Senior Director of Digital Research & Strategy for the Nickelodeon/MTV Networks Kids & Family Group. Before joining Nickelodeon, she was an assistant professor of communication at Indiana University. She has three edited books -The Children's Television Community, Television and the American Family (2nd Ed), and Service-Learning in the University Classroom - and over 30 research articles and chapters. Alison earned her Ph.D. from the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Southern California.

Tom Kamber

Tom Kamber

Executive Director, Older Adults Technology Services

Tom Kamber is the founder and executive director of Older Adults Technology Services (OATS) and Senior Planet. He is a leading expert on aging and technology and is regularly featured in national media. Under his leadership, OATS and Senior Planet have developed award-winning programs for older adults across America and are now charitable affiliates of AARP. Tom has taught courses on technology, urban studies, and philanthropy at Columbia University, is widely published in professional and academic journals, and has presented his work on five continents. He is also a co-founder of the Afro-Latin Jazz Alliance (which has won multiple Grammy awards) and serves on several nonprofit boards of directors and public commissions.

Frances West

Frances West

Founder, FrancesWestCo, and Former Chief Accessibility Officer, IBM

Frances West is an internationally recognized keynote speaker, advisor, and technology executive known globally for her work in digital inclusion, emerging markets, and organizational transformation. An innovator for inclusion on a global scale, she works with industry, government, startups, and nonprofits to ensure that human diversity is at the core of disruptive innovation. A trailblazing woman in tech pioneer, Frances’s human-first thinking is rooted in her experience as a first-generation Asian immigrant who rose to the executive rank, including IBM’s first Chief Accessibility Officer. She is the author of “Authentic Inclusion™ Drives Disruptive innovation” and founder of FrancesWestCo, her global strategy advisory company. Frances guides her clients from the top in formulating inclusion-based digital transformation and organizational strategy to achieve talent acquisition, brand differentiation and market expansion. Frances was the sole IT industry representative to testify before the US Senate on the need to pass the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities and has delivered keynote remarks at key policy forums such as the United Nations, Department of Labor and global business conferences such as Mobile World Congress, Consumer Electronics Show and SXSW. She attended universities in Hong Kong and the United States and has an honorary Doctor of Science degree from the University of Massachusetts, Boston, based on her work in digital accessibility research. Frances is a board member of the IWF Massachusetts chapter.

Dr. Maria-Francesca Spatolisano

Dr. Maria-Francesca Spatolisano

Officer-in Charge, Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology

Maria-Francesca Spatolisano is the Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter Agency Affairs, UN DESA since March 2019. At the beginning of February 2021, she was also appointed Officer-in Charge of the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology in her personal capacity. Ms. Spatolisano has 35 years of experience in public service including extensive senior leadership in multilateral affairs. She has served as the European Union Ambassador to the OECD and UNESCO, Monaco and Andorra. She was a member of the EU Delegation to the United Nations, serving as the Head of its Economic and Trade Section, covering all issues related to trade, development and environmental policies in the Second Committee and ECOSOC; she also represented the EC to the Fifth Committee.

Dr. Matthias von Schwanenflügel

Dr. Matthias von Schwanenflügel

Director General of the Division of Demographic Change, Older People and Welfare, German Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth

Since May 2014, Prof. Dr. Matthias von Schwanenflügel LL.M.Eur., has been the Directorate-General in the German federal Ministry, heading Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, specifically in the areas of 'Demographic Change, Senior Citizens, and Social Welfare.' He was also head of the Directorate 'Drugs, Biotechnology.' From 1991 to 2014, he supported the German Federal Ministry of Health in various Directorates-General and Minister's support staff (e.g. Personal Secretary, Head of Division 'Medical Devices Law', Deputy Head of the Minister's Office/Political Staff). From 2010 to 2014, he was Head of the Directorate 'Budget, Law and Telematics', as well as Data Protection Officer. From 2005 to 2010, Dr. von Schwanenflügel was Head of the Directorate 'Sustainability in Long-term Care.' After working in the European Commission in 1990, other previous positions he held were Adviser/Fellow at the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation in Washington DC (2011), and research assistant at the University of Bremen (1988–1991) and doctorate in 1991. Since 2017, Dr. von Schwanenflügel has been an honorary professor at the University of Bremen.

Lourdes Montenegro

Lourdes Montenegro

Lead of Digital Sector Transformation, World Benchmarking Alliance

Lourdes leads the digital sector work of the World Benchmarking Alliance, including strategic oversight over the publication of the Digital Inclusion Benchmark which ranks and scores 200 of the world’s most influential technology companies. She also leads engagement with global stakeholders and is WBA’s main spokesperson on digital sector topics. Before joining WBA, she worked at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), where she coordinated a global expert group on ICT statistics, organized international meetings, trained developing country regulators, and contributed to ITU’s statistical publications. Lourdes is an economist from the Philippines with more than a decade of experience delivering data-driven and policy-oriented projects for industry clients, UN agencies and governments. She has authored peer-reviewed papers on technology policy as well as on environmental economics.