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Shifting barriers for older people: Time for a change

Why do older people make less use of computers and digital services than younger people? writes Ann Bajina.

Of course, there is the perception that they don’t want to simply because the digital world is new, but I don’t think that is always the reason. There are some real problems with access for older people.

Let’s look first at the positives, as an older person myself – recognising that I couldn’t do without my laptop now, having resisted buying one for a few years! It’s great to be able to stay in touch with relatives and friends without needing to know if they are available to take a phone call, and without the feeling that a letter needs to contain important news. I have had health problems and have needed to report in to my daughter every morning and evening just to reassure her that I am OK. By email it is easy – I don’t even need to know if she is up yet! And it’s free, whether we are countries apart or next door.

Then mobile phones – what would we do without them now? I take issue with those friends who say they only use them in emergencies and switch them off otherwise – so my question is: so it’s only an emergency you have that matters, not one someone else might have?

I understand they do not want to be fiddling with answering the phone in the middle of doing something else, and that’s if they can actually find it – which leads to one of the difficulties for older people – hearing it ring in the first place! I think many older people find mobile phones intrusive, not helped by (mostly) younger people chatting at full volume on trains and buses! I haven’t any experience yet with smart phones, for reasons I will describe shortly.

Other major positives for older people include remotely controlled burglar alarm systems, alarm systems on a phone to alert someone of health issues, and even for some people, games!

However, there are problems which get worse the older you get. Here are my main gripes.

Touch screens are a nice idea but almost impossible to use if you have shaky hands, and most of us do eventually.

Small devices are a problem as well, as we often can’t read the screens. Even this Notebook computer I am using is difficult. It is rarely intuitive finding out how to increase the text size, and then there’s no room on the screen without lots of scrolling. I’ve just found how to do it for this article!

Passwords and PIN numbers – another problem. We’re told not to write them down but to have different ones for each application. I couldn’t have remembered them if I’d obeyed this rule years ago, now it is impossible. Quite apart from issues such as failing memory, we now have so many.

Then there are constantly changing computer operating systems. I read a letter in the Saga magazine just this morning pleading for fewer of these. It nearly always depends on having some younger techie to explain and implement changes, and not all of us have access to such people. Even after a full career in IT I am seriously out of date and have no confidence in being able to deal with this problem. Associated with this is the cost of getting new hardware and software – many older people can’t afford to change even if they wanted to.

Anti-virus systems are an even more complicated example of the above. And a particular irritation is being offered extra features on a trial basis and then not being able to say you don’t want them.

Finally, spam is a nuisance for everyone, but it is counter-intuitive to expect older people to avoid putting details say of their email address on a form when asked to do so. We’re much less likely to realise when this is risky. This leads to the issue of scare stories and hoaxes – I always advise my friends to check with Snopes.com before opening anything they don’t recognise, and never to download anything they don’t know about – but they don’t know about software upgrades they need either!

In conclusion, there’s quite a lot of education needed for my generation who mostly had almost no experience of computers in their working lives. But they are not going to do it – they don’t see why they should and in any case, it just makes them recognise how little they know and how much can go wrong! And cost again is a factor.

So, what do we need? Fewer changes; cheaper support networks; clearer instructions on how to increase volume and text size and swap between mouse and touch screen systems; and older people serving in computer shops! And how about bringing back paper copies of manuals– if you don’t know how to use your computer, how do you find the help system?

NOTE: Ann Bajina worked for more than 50 years in IT, and is now gratefully retired.

Citizen journalists find their voice on the virtual high street

A wheelchair user’s struggle to use the car park at the town hall, to attend her brother’s wedding; an elderly man’s description of how he improved his diet to help his health; and one woman’s tale of learning sign language to help others. These are all real examples of self-help and mutual support videos created by and for an inspirational project in the South West of England offering older people and people with disabilities peer support for independent living, writes Tristan Parker.

The online video project ‘ADTV’ was launched by Access Dorset, a user-led charity partnership formed in 2010 by 17 organisations across the county supporting people with disabilities, older people and carers.

The project’s website features a ‘virtual high street’, with different areas representing different aspects of independent living such as transport, safety, money matters and leisure. Clicking on each of these topics takes the user to a series of videos made by the site’s members sharing stories and experiences on that topic.

The videos are well-made, thanks to ‘citizen journalism’ skills such as writing a storyboard and producing a short video taught to some of the site’s members by Bournemouth University. Members are also taught how to train others as citizen journalists, to help the project grow.

Dave Thompson, development manager at Access Dorset, told E-Access Bulletin the idea for the virtual high street and user-centred videos arose from extensive consultation with organisations that work with older people and those with disabilities.

“We’re a small organisation without a huge amount of funding, so how do we go about making films that can actually tell those stories and produce them as cheaply as possible? That’s where we came up with the idea of looking at the broader concept of citizen journalism”, Thompson said.

Dr Einar Thorsen, senior lecturer in journalism and communication at Bournemouth University, has been taking a key role in teaching Access Dorset members the citizen journalism skills needed to produce their videos. “The project has different ways of empowering people”, Thorsen told E-Access Bulletin.

Many of those making the videos are concerned about a lack of coverage or inefficient coverage of issues associated with disability, impairments and ageing in mainstream media, Thorsen said. “The website has an empowering function to give otherwise marginalised voices an ability to be heard, and that’s quite a powerful thing”, Thorsen said.

Funding for ADTV has arrived from a diverse range of national and local funders and sponsors. The Office for Disability Issues has provided grant funding, and organisations can sponsor individual sections of the virtual high street: Bluebird Care in Dorset sponsor the ‘Our Home’ section and Castlepoint Shopping Park in Bournemouth sponsor ‘Leisure’.

In the longer term, Thompson said there is “a possibility of replicating and broadening out” the project in other parts of the UK, although the current focus is on developing it around Dorset. “We’ve already had a few conversations about the possibility of how we could take the concept and share it with others”, he said. “We need to look at different ways of funding the project, and part of that is scaling up.”

Coming soon to a virtual high street near you?

Care Home Workers ‘Lack Digital Confidence and Skills’

Many people who work with older people and disabled people in care homes lack digital skills and are poorly placed to help residents use the internet and other vital tools, eAccess 13 delegates heard.

“We often find that the people who work with those in care are not particularly confident or skilled in their use of digital,” said Miles Maier, ICT champion at LASA, an organisation which helps charities and voluntary groups use technology.

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Access to the Internet by Older People and Mobile Tips at Heart of e-Access 13

Access to the internet in homes for the elderly and developing inclusive services on smartphones and tablet computers are among topics on the agenda at e-Access 13, the UK’s leading event on access to technology by people with disabilities.

Delegates will hear about the Connecting Care project, looking at how care homes for older people can make the most of new technology to support their organisation, carers and service users. The project is run by Lasa, a technology support group for charities and public sector bodies, with funding from the Department of Health.

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Disability Still A Major Factor In Determining UK Internet Use, Report Finds

UK adults with a disability are still three times less likely to have used the internet than those without a disability, a report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has shown.

The figures in the latest Internet Access Quarterly Update, released every four months, show that at the first quarter of 2013, there were 3.7 million disabled adults – as defined by the Disability Discrimination Act – who had never used the internet, representing 32% of all adults in the UK with a disability.

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Tech Giant Launches Smartphone For Older People

A smartphone designed for elderly people has been developed by global technology company Fujitsu.

When setting up the Stylistic S01 phone the user inputs their age, which customises some aspects to work differently. For example, the audio frequency range will be optimised for older people so they can clearly hear the voice of the person they are speaking to, and the phone can also slow down the speech of a caller without losing audio quality, again making it easier to understand.

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Age UK’s Internet Champion: My Online Life Began At 75

By Brenda O’Mulloy.

I have had a fantastic year as Age UK’s Internet Champion of 2012. First there was the honour of winning, followed by the excitement of being broadcast live on BBC radio, speaking at high profile conferences and events and being interviewed by a variety of newspapers and magazines all with the aim of extolling the virtues of using the internet in later life.

My son bought me a computer when I was 75. He connected me to the internet and changed my life! I had been feeling very cut off after moving away from my friends and family – my family live 200 miles away – and the passing of my husband.
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User Priorities Must Drive Accessible ICT Research, Warns Telecoms Expert

Research and investment priorities for the digital economy and development of internet services and mobile devices must reflect the needs of disabled and elderly people, a telecommunications expert has warned.

In a video address to a London event on the future of accessible ICT research( http://bit.ly/T0SkH2 ), Dr Mike Short, vice president of Telefónica Europe and former president of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, said customer demand for more accessible services has risen over the past ten years. Accordingly, mobile network providers need to think about different groups of users when planning for future growth, including the benefits that universal design can offer to everybody, Short said.
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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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