Digital Divide: Ways to Include the Aging Population in the Technology Revolution

Technology is no longer what it used to be: Computers long-ago replaced typewriters and telephone landlines are in rapid decline. Technological advances are being made every day, making many of our lives easier and allowing information to be more accessible. However, technological progress can in fact be more limiting for some older people. According to Neil Charness and Walter R. Boot from Florida State University, the key to including the aging population in information technology is to adopt age sensitive design principles. The researchers outline several age-related changes that affect technology use in older adults — including difficulties with vision, audition, motor control, and cognition in a report in Current Directions in Psychological Science. Specifically, older adults experience reduced visual acuity, color perception, and susceptibility to glare. They also encounter a greater difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds and perceive a greater interference from background noises. As for motor skills, ailments such as arthritis can limit a person’s use of technology as well. It also takes older adults twice as long to learn new information compared to younger adults. The psychologists suggest Web designers should avoid backgrounds that create low contrast for text, use larger fonts, minimize scrolling, and provide navigation aids and instructional support. They also recommend designers undergo training that takes into account age-related perceptual and cognitive changes. Ultimately, changes in web design and development will dramatically improve usability for older adults, but there will always be hurdles to overcome alongside emerging technologies. However, there is hope that some technological advances, such as video-games designed to sharpen cognitive abilities, may be able to boost technological abilities in the aging population.

Observer Vol.22, No.10 December, 2009

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