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Archive for September, 2012

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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DOTCOM Maps Out European Disability Laws

A searchable online database of laws, policies, strategies and initiatives upholding the rights of people with disabilities has been launched to measure how well European nations are implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

“DOTCOM: the Disability Online Tool of the Commission” has been developed by the Academic Network of European Disability Experts (ANED) – in collaboration with the European Commission and EU Member States – building on the commission’s European Disability Strategy 2010-20.

The information, taken from 34 countries, is organised into eight themes: UN convention status; general legal framework; accessibility; independent living; education; employment; statistics and data collection; and awareness and external action.

Data can be searched by country, group of countries, theme or sub-category – for example the three sub-categories of accessibility law are transport accessibility; built environment accessibility; ICT and web accessibility.

Searching for the UK’s ICT accessibility laws and policies returns information on the Equality Act 2010 and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, among others.

“Smart TVs” To Be Scrutinised For Accessibility

Accessibility features for “connected TVs” or “smart TVs” – television sets which can access internet content – are being examined by a working group from the Digital TV Group (DTG), the UK’s industry association for digital television.

The work will include an updating of guidelines first published in a 2011 TV usability document from the DTG usability group, which has been renamed the accessibility group to incorporate wider interests.

“The UK Digital TV Usability and Accessibility Guidelines” – nicknamed the U-Book – offer advice for manufacturers of digital TV receiving equipment on how to incorporate accessibility features into their products, including audio description services and text-to-speech conversion. The DTG accessibility group will be updating the U-Book in the autumn to include internet content on TVs.

“The guidelines are intended to document the best practice for supporting accessibility and are there to provide a reference tool for industry”, Simon Gauntlett, Technology Director at DTG, told E-Access Bulletin.

“Increasingly, we will see the integration of TV services and web-based content, and it is essential that, in the development of new types of services, accessibility is not compromised.”

The U-Book is available by email on request from the DTG website.

Profile Feature – Simon Stevens: A High Flyer in Two Worlds

Simon Stevens is a high achiever. A manufacturing and business graduate of Coventry University, he now works as an independent disability consultant, trainer and activist and has provided accessibility consultancy to eBay, lectured to students at universities, and helped organise and run European youth seminars.

He has even appeared in a Channel 4 TV comedy series, ‘I’m Spazticus’ – a new take on the hidden camera prank show – which ran in August during the run-up to the Paralympic Games and can still be viewed on the channel’s “4oD” online catch-up service.

Stevens, who has cerebral palsy affecting his speech, mobility, hand control and balance, is also a techno-wizard. He uses a PC, iPad and Lightwriter text to speech communication aid, and says such advances have benefited him hugely in day-to-day life.

“Technology enables me to do so many things and to be an independent, active citizen”, he says. “Without computers, email and internet… I would not be able to work from home, I would be more socially isolated, and it would be harder to do my banking, my shopping and order takeaways to be delivered. Most importantly it would be much harder to have a voice in society as a contributing citizen and be able to be heard in the way I believe I am.”

As long-term readers of E-Access Bulletin will also be aware, Stevens is also a pioneer in the popular online virtual world Second Life, becoming its first full-time virtual wheelchair user – meaning his online character or “avatar” is also in a wheelchair – when he joined in 2006. “While this felt very normal for me, I was unaware of the impact my decision to use a wheelchair made on others,” says Simon. “I have been interviewed in top mainstream media, like BBC World Service, about the issue, and it has been studied and researched by people all over the world.”

Soon after joining, Simon opened ‘Wheelies’, the world’s first disability-themed virtual nightclub in Second Life, with the aim of it being a friendly and inclusive place for disabled and non-disabled people from around the world to meet and have a virtual dance to the club’s music. In 2008, Simon was awarded the UK Catalyst ‘Revolutionary’ Award by then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown for his work on Wheelies.

Simon believes it is important for people with impairments to recognise the solutions that technology can provide, although he is aware that cost can be a significant barrier. It can expensive to replace a computer or tablet computer that may only last several years, with the added difficulty of finding reliable repair services when needed, he says.

Despite this, Simon believes that technology can be a key factor for increasing the ability of disabled people to become “modern, contributing citizens.” He says: “The internet gives everyone direct power over their lives and the ability to express themselves… in a way no previous generation has had. The technology has its practical difficulties, but it is far more accessible in comparison with other methods of communication, and therefore is an equaliser for so many disabled people.”

The achievement of which Simon is proudest is his 2004 award in the ‘Community’ category of the first Enterprising Young Brits Award. “The reason it was my greatest achievement was that it was a mainstream competition where I was the only disabled finalist, and as someone with a speech impairment who has faced a lot of prejudices in my life, it is a true recognition of how far technology has enabled me to make a difference.”

As for the future, he says: “I would like to continue to make a difference and demonstrate what someone with a significant impairment can achieve with the assistance of technology. I also look forward to the continuing improvement of technology, where we can achieve more and more in a way that is easier and easier.”

NOTE: Simon is a video champion for Go ON Gold, a new national campaign to promote awareness of the barriers disabled people face in accessing technology, and help people overcome those barriers. The campaign is supported by E-Access Bulletin, To find out more, including an exclusive video interview with Simon Stevens, see the Go ON Gold website.

And to find out more about Simon and his work, visit his website.