Even as the tech industry has boomed in the San Francisco Bay Area, technology hasn't benefited the lives of older adults and people with disabilities to the degree that you might expect. The SF Tech Council was established to address that. As the communications manager, researcher, and facilitator for the development and launch of the Council, I had the powerful experience of collaborating on the development of private-public-nonprofit partnership. By design, the partnership is more than a community service program. It helps advance the priorities of all the companies, agencies, and organizations involved. But, most importantly, it benefits older adults and people with disabilities.

My role in this project including conducting original research, engaging leaders across the community, and establishing the initial brand for the Tech Council. This page includes samples of the work I did with Marie Jobling, an extraordinary Community Organizer, to get the SF Tech Council launched. There is also a button below to get you to the Tech Council's current website, where you see what came of our initial efforts.

Ned Schaub served as an important thought partner and communications expert for two important initiatives in San Francisco. The first, now called SF Connected, established programs in San Francisco that provide tech access and training for people with disabilities and older adults. The second, the SF Tech Council, engaged leaders from all sectors in a collaboration that supports technological solutions designed to enhance the wellbeing of older adults and adults with disabilities.
— Shireen McSpadden, Executive Director, San Francisco Aging and Adult Services

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October, 2014 -- Research and Report developed by: Marie Jobling and Ned Schaub

Executive Summary

Following a successful three-year grant and effort to get older adults and those with disabilities online and using technology, through the federally funded Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), the City of San Francisco funded a two-year project to extend the effort. The City-funded project included continuation of programs originally established at senior centers and other sites, as well as an effort to explore ongoing sustainability and potential for innovation. Over the course of six months in 2014, 80 government, community organization, and tech industry representatives participated in stakeholder and expert interviews. This report outlines findings and related focus areas for exploration.

Among the findings are the following:

  • Participants indicated that using technology to keep people “connected” is very important.

  • Participants don’t believe the official City-adopted goal of getting 90% of San Franciscans “connected” by 2015 is realistic.

  • Participants either don’t believe that San Francisco is doing well at getting seniors, adults with disabilities, and low-income households connected online, or are uncertain.

  • Participants have wide ranging recommendations on how to best bring San Franciscans online.

  • Participants believe that cross-sector collaboration toward providing more seniors, adults with disabilities, and low-income households with online access, is a great idea.

  • Most participants have had personal experiences getting family or friends connected online.

Through the course of the interviews four key thematic areas emerged repeatedly. They are:

  • Education efforts and systems to get people online are key in bringing people online, including peer-based and community-based efforts, but there have not been sufficient, or sophisticated enough, efforts to reach the community broadly.

  • Isolation experienced by older adults and those with disabilities is pervasive and complicated, but it can be significantly reduced through online engagement, use of related technology, and related interventions.

  • Healthcare and life challenges drive the realities and wellbeing of many older adults and those with disabilities, and online connection and related technology can help navigate challenges.

  • Diversity in San Francisco is challenged on a number of fronts, related to a number of factors, and simultaneously there are many opportunities to advance initiatives that engage and preserve a diverse community.

A meeting in October 2014 will bring together a number of those interviewed to further explore these areas, as well as potential cross-sector innovation related to them.

Please note that this document was created principally to provide those that will participate in Tech Council meetings “food for thought,” and specific tangible ideas. It thus includes summaries and identified patterns, along with extensive samplings from the 80 interviews that were conducted.


  • There is value of connectedness, in feeling like you belong in the community -- and that there are no wasted people, but rather that everyone matters. Online activity is increasingly one of the most important ways of being and staying connected in our world.

  • A large percentage of elders and people with disabilities are still not online, and as technology and online interconnectivity grows, they are increasingly left behind.

  • The Tech Council will build upon the infrastructure and important work established by BTOP being sustained by SF connected. It will bring together the original partners in BTOP, as well as additional organization representatives, representatives of the tech and other industries, government officials, and representatives of the communities it will support.

To achieve success the efforts of the Tech Council will be focused in three key areas:

  1. Policy development / accountability

  2. Bringing programs and organizations together toward collective impact

  3. Engaging the broader community, and welcoming their contributions of time, talent, and financial support


An Opportunity for San Francisco: Connection Through Digital Inclusion -- Many older adults and people with disabilities are isolated. Current research shows that connected living reduces depression, increases ability to find purpose and gets people to exercise, eat better, manage their healthcare and take other steps toward healthy and full lives. Digital inclusion is one of the answers – and there’s no place better positioned than San Francisco to achieve it.

San Francisco has the highest proportion of seniors who live alone in the nation, as well as a large number of residents with a range of disabilities. Simultaneously, San Francisco is seen as a tech innovation leader to the world and home to many entrepreneurial problem-solvers. A relatively simple, but entrepreneurial, cross-sector effort right here could quickly improve and change lives, while advancing private sector, government and nonprofit goals.

About the Tech Council and SF Connected -- The Tech Council is supported by SF Connected, which brings free computer and internet access, tutoring and training to seniors and adults with disabilities in more than 50 tech lab sites. The work began with a grant awarded through the federal government’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program. In addition to basic computer and internet skills adapted for special needs, SF Connected trainings address other barriers, such as the use of social media tools to help overcome social isolation. Participants also learn skills to access resources for health promotion and healthy aging, for management of personal finances, and for online job searches. These programs are making a big difference in the lives of participants, but leadership is needed to sustain it, and to take the work to new creative, impact-oriented heights. The Tech Council will offer the opportunity to do just that.

How Tech Companies Can Get Involved

  • Serving on the Tech Council

  • Collaborating to design tech innovations that will bring more folks into the mix through digital inclusion

  • Bringing technical support and solutions, including app development and coding

  • Developing and participating in hackathons

  • Getting fellow employees involved in volunteering at programs across the city

  • Providing equipment donations, funding, or grants that advance the work

Contact: Ned Schaub,