Technology and older adults: Designing for accessibility and usability
Two major demographic trends underscore the importance of considering technology adoption by older adults: the aging of the population and rapid dissemination of technology within most societal contexts. In the past decade, developments in computer and information technologies have occurred at an unprecedented rate and technology has become an integral component of work, education, healthcare, communication and entertainment. At the same time that we are witnessing explosive developments in technology the population is aging. In 2003 people aged 65+ yrs. in the United States numbered about 35 million and represented approximately 13% of the population. By 2030 this number is expected to increase to about 71 million representing 20% of the population). Moreover, there will be a dramatic increase in those aged 85+ yrs. increasing in numbers from about 4 million in 2000 to nearly 21 million by 2050. Recent data for the U.S. also indicate that although the use of technology such as computers and the Internet among older adults is increasing there is still an age-based digital divide. Not having access to and being able to use technology may put older adults at a disadvantage in terms of their ability to live independently. For example, the Internet is rapidly becoming a major vehicle for communication and information dissemination about health, community and government services. Technology also offers the potential for enhancing the quality of life of older people by augmenting their ability to perform a variety of tasks and access information. To make technology useful to and usable by older adults a challenge for the research and design community is to "know thy user" and better understand the needs, preferences and abilities of older people. It is fairly well established that many technology products and systems are not easily accessible to older people. There are of course a myriad of reasons for this such as cost, lack of access to training programs, etc. However, to a large part it is because designers are unaware of the needs of users with varying abilities or do not know how to accommodate their needs in the design process. Although, older adults today are healthier, more diverse and better educated than previous generations, there are age-related changes in functional abilities that have relevance to the design of technology systems. These include changes in sensory/perceptual processes, motor abilities, response speed, and cognitive processes. The likelihood of developing a disability increases with age, and many older people have at least one chronic condition such as arthritis or hearing and vision impairments. This presentation will discuss the implications of age-related changes in abilities that have relevance to system design and provide a summary of what is currently know about (he adoption and use of technology by older people. Recommendations to accommodate these age-related changes in abilities will also be discussed. In addition, a brief discussion of strategies to include the needs of older people in the design process will be presented. It is hoped that this presentation will highlight some important issues and in doing so help bridge the existing age-related digital divide.