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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( ), 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.

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.

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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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 ( ), 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.


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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