Top News

Islander teaches her 91-year-old grandma to use iPhone amid coronavirus

Julienne Van Hul, left, and her granddaughter, Stephanie McQuaid, enjoy some social time while maintaining a social distance.
Julienne Van Hul, left, and her granddaughter, Stephanie McQuaid, enjoy some social time while maintaining a social distance. - Saltwire
EMYVALE, P.E.I. —

Stephanie McQuaid knew it wouldn't be easy to teach her grandma how to use an iPhone.

"But let alone through a pane of glass."

Julienne Van Hul, left, and her granddaughter Stephanie McQuaid enjoy some social time while maintaining a social distance.
Julienne Van Hul, left, and her granddaughter Stephanie McQuaid enjoy some social time while maintaining a social distance.

Julienne Van Hul, 91, is currently in self-isolation at her Emyvale home due to the coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) pandemic. McQuaid is a part-time nurse, so she figured it was important to protect her grandmother during this time.

"I'm very aware that she falls into the immunocompromised population."

The two women have a special relationship. When McQuaid's mother died, she started calling Van Hul on the phone more, partly to fill the void for both of them.

"She's my best friend," McQuaid said.

Because McQuaid was worried her grandmother would start to get lonely, she had the idea of giving her grandmother a spare iPhone so she could use its FaceTime app to make video calls.

But how would they do that while maintaining a social distance?

First, McQuaid bought a SIM card and phone plan, as Van Hul doesn't have internet. She then configured the phone to be senior-friendly and added some family members into its contact list.

She cleaned the phone using lysol wipes and put it in a ziploc bag, then drove out to Emyvale and left the phone package on Van Hul's porch. Van Hul retrieved it – making sure to wash her hands first.

Then came the challenge of teaching Van Hul how to use the device through the patio window. McQuaid sat outside and used her own iPhone to help demonstrate, focusing exclusively on how to use FaceTime.

"Explaining to someone who's never owned a smartphone, or really anything more complicated than a TV or radio, was pretty challenging."

Van Hul thought the whole thing was silly at first, and the amount of pressure you have to put on the device's buttons and touch screen took some getting used to, McQuaid said.

"We practised a few times."

While Van Hul still has to figure out how to call others on FaceTime, she did learn how to answer incoming calls, so they called it a day. They socialized for a bit before McQuaid left, but she decided to check in a while later.

Already, Van Hul had recieved a number of FaceTime calls from various relatives. She was able to see one of her grandchildren who lives in Calgary, and she could share her thoughts on another grandchild's new haircut.

"She definitely saw the value in it once people started calling her," McQuaid said. "I think it really made a difference being able to see each other."

But Van Hul will have to keep practising. When The Guardian visited the two women to take their photo, it turns out she didn't plug the iPhone in to keep it charged.

"That was the whole point!" McQuaid laughed.


Daniel Brown is a LOCAL JOURNALISM INITIATIVE REPORTER. He can be reached at daniel.brown@theguardian.pe.ca or on Twitter at twitter.com/dnlbrown95

Did this story inform or enhance your perspective on this subject?
1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

Recent Stories