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Call For New Task-Based Approach To Digital Inclusion

A “change in mind set” on digital inclusion is needed by organisations in all sectors after a general failure to create accessible digital systems – particularly for those with a disability or the elderly – a new report by technology access charity AbilityNet says.

“Mind the Digital Gap: It’s bigger than you think” says that although there has been much discussion on accessibility and inclusive digital systems over the past 15 years, this has not yielded significant results. “The reality is … that apart from a small number of good examples, many digital systems and content are inaccessible to the majority of disabled and older people. The current methodology … has failed and we need a change in mind set on how we approach digital inclusion,” it says.
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Internet Use Cuts Depression In Elderly, Study Finds

Elderly people who regularly use the internet are less likely to suffer from depression, new research from a US university has found.

The research, from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, found that regular internet usage in retired Americans aged 50 and older reduced depression by 20-28% and helped promote mental well-being among this group.

The definition of regular internet use was based on people’s own answers to the question: “Do you regularly use the World Wide Web, or the Internet, for sending and receiving e-mail or for any other purpose…?”) and depression was classified by the ‘eight-item version’ of the Center for Epidemiologic Studies’ Depression Scale – a commonly used method for measuring depression.

“Internet use and depression among older adults” was compiled by Shelia Cotten, George Ford, Sherry Ford and Timothy Hale using existing data from a survey covering both internet usage and health among US adults aged 50 and older, conducted as part of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), an ongoing study into ageing by the University of Michigan.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham study notes that much prior research on the relationship between internet use and depression among older adults has been based “on small samples, which limit the statistical sophistication and the robustness of the findings”. The HRS sample was larger, surveying 7,839 older adults who are retired and not living in a nursing home.

The new research concludes: “Internet use reduces the probability of a depression categorization for older adults by about 20%–28%. The effects of Internet use on depression are large and positive, resolving, at least to some extent, the lack of evidence supporting the Internet’s impact on depression among older adults.”

Dr Cotten told E-Access Bulletin that the most important finding of this study is that “there is a strong and robust effect of Internet usage on depression. What this means is that regardless of the statistical analysis techniques used, internet users were 20%-28% less likely to be classified as depressed. This suggests that we should be encouraging more older adults to become Internet users.”

Dr Cotten said other research she has conducted in this area shows that “using the internet provides a way for older adults to find information, garner resources, and communicate with members of their social networks. The ability to stay in touch with others and find support when needed are likely responsible for the beneficial impacts of Internet use on mental health among older adults.”

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Launch for National Accessibility Awareness Campaign

Go ON Gold, a new national campaign to raise awareness about the barriers faced by disabled people in accessing modern technologies, from the internet to smartphones and digital TV, was launched this week by a consortium of partners lead by Headstar, the publisher of E-Access Bulletin.

Running for a year from summer 2012 to summer 2013, Go ON Gold is being launched ahead of the London Paralympics to capitalise on a stronger- than-usual public focus on disability issues.

At the project’s core is a partnership between the UK’s major e-accessibility players including the new national digital inclusion charity Go ON UK led by Martha Lane Fox, the UK government’s Digital Champion. Other partners include Headstar; AbilityNet, the UK’s leading charity on access to IT; BCS; the UK’s national blindness charity RNIB; Disability Rights UK (formerly RADAR), an umbrella group of other major charities; and the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The project is funded by Nominet Trust.

A series of video interviews with leading figures in the disability community – including Paralympic athletes – are being created for the campaign, about how access to new technologies has transformed their lives. All organisations and individuals invited to embed the videos in their own site. The Go ON Gold website also intends to act as a signpost to all the best accessibility resources elsewhere on the web.

Any organisation can sign up to become a Go ON Gold partner.

Launch For New National Disability IT Network.

A new network of 51 specialist organisations across England have been funded to help local computer users with a disability or learning difficulty to get online and use government services.

The Disability Network initiative has been launched by the national technology access body UK Online Centres ( http://www.ukonlinecentres.com/ ), with specialist learning providers across England receiving funding of £7,500 each to provide training and support to disabled computer users.

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Digital Exclusion For Older People Will Continue, Academic Warns

Today’s technologically-skilled young people are likely to face significant web accessibility problems as they grow older, similar to those faced by elderly computer users today, a professor of computing has said.

Speaking to E-Access Bulletin ahead of his talk at this week’s W4A web accessibility conference in Lyon, France ( www.w4a.info/2012 ), Alan F. Newell, an emeritus professor at Dundee University’s School of Computing, said that he has “every expectation” that today’s young people will face problems using the web in the future, even if they currently have good computer skills. This will arise from their declining abilities (such as poorer eyesight, poorer cognition, poorer dexterity) struggling to cope with constant technological evolution, he said.

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Video Game Communities Could Boost Social Inclusion

Online communities built around popular video games could help build social inclusion for disadvantaged groups including disabled people, a digital games expert involved in a new European research project told E-Access Bulletin.

The Digital Games for Empowerment and Inclusion (DGEI) research project, funded by the European Commission, held its first meeting in Seville last month. The project aims to examine uses of digital games for social purposes such as health, training, education, social inclusion and other public services – so-called “serious games”. After the researching the current state of play it aims to develop an action plan to help realise games’ social potential.

However the use of games for social benefit is wider than simply the use of gaming techniques to create “serious games” with a social or educational purpose, says Scott Colfer, project manager of internet channel Young Dads TV and participant in the Seville event.

He told E-Access Bulletin there was big untapped potential in building support communities around existing popular games, which already feature online player communities.

“The big computer games have a budget bigger than a large motion picture,” Colfer said. “It’s hard to match that, so it might be better to see how communities around games can be used.” One model might be the UK-based group GamerDads, a group of young fathers who set up their own online community to play games online (http://www.gamerdads.co.uk/ ), Colfer said.

“They were tired of playing in normal gamer groups where if you leave during a game, it’s frowned on. But they may have to leave the game because they are looking after their kids.” From coming together as gamers, the group had developed into one of the largest online communities of fathers, and members were offering each other informal support outside the gaming sphere, he said.

“Now they work on other things together, they support a particular charity, and they do it all themselves, there’s no government input.” Similar communities could work well for disabled gamers, Colfer said.

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Age alliance plans digital inclusion knowledge base

A plan to create an online “knowledge base” of resources relating to digital inclusion for older people is being drawn up by Age Action Alliance, an umbrella group of companies and charities led by the Department for Work and Pensions.

The alliance, whose members include the BBC, Microsoft, mobile network Three, Age UK and the digital inclusion charity for older people Digital Unite, has tasked a working group with drawing up a “starter strategy” for the knowledge base covering its potential usefulness, purpose and viability. It will then make a final decision on whether to go ahead with the project at the next meeting of its digital inclusion group in February.

“The aim of the knowledge base is to gather in one place the mass of extensive and varied research, analysis and evaluation data on activities and projects that have, and still are, delivering and facilitating digital literacy for older people”, Emma Solomon, managing director of Digital Unite and the groups’ chair, said this month. “The aim is also to gather – or at least signpost – practitioners to a variety of tools and resources that can help them deliver or facilitate digital inclusion for older people.”

The knowledge base will be aimed at all practitioners and promoters of digital inclusion for older people, Solomon said. “These may be formal intermediaries, informal intermediaries and individuals as well as organisations and businesses from third, private and public sectors.”

As a separate project, the group also hopes to help co-ordinate the promotion of all actions, events and activities that promote digital inclusion to older people by creating a searchable national database of all campaigns, outreach projects, learning and engagement activities in which older people are being encouraged and supported to embrace digital technologies, she said.

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