Seniors and computers — a relationship often seen as a struggle in futility. However, this idea is becoming less and less true as design and training options advance to make technology easy for seniors.
As a matter of fact, this idea has been questioned for over a decade. Hilary Browne of The University of Maryland wrote the following in her paper, “Accessibility and Usability of Information Technology by the Elderly” (published April 2000):
A 1995 study conducted by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) showed that age is not a major predictor of computer ownership. Education and higher income were the most likely predictors across all adult age groups. Thus, the idea that age-related ‘technophobia’ or lack of interest are the main obstacles to elderly computer and Internet usage seem to be disappearing. In fact, many argue that one of the main reasons that elderly users have been underrepresented in computing is that until recently, hardware and software design, particularly interfaces, have simply not been designed to accommodate them.
The advent of touch-screen interfaces and larger keyboards, and other advances in computer design have made computers for seniors much more comfortable, and Internet use among seniors much more widespread. Those technologies didn’t exist in 2000.
But the idea that computers and the Internet are a young person’s technology is hard for most people to shake off. Fortunately, more and more options are coming to light as time goes on — options that help take away the mystery that surrounds modern technology, and elucidates technology for seniors.
SeniorNet aims to combat that perception. An international nonprofit, SeniorNet evolved from a research project funded by the Markle Foundation that wants to discover ways in which computers and communications technology could enrich the lives of older adults.
Here’s some information about the organization:
SeniorNet members learn and teach others to use computers and communications technologies to accomplish a variety of tasks. They learn to touch up photos and send and receive them in email, to desktop publish documents, write their autobiographies, manage personal and financial records, communicate with others across the country and the world and serve their communities.
While there is a fee for enrolling in its course — usually between $40 and $200 for a year — it is one of the few computer learning centers that caters specifically to an over-50 crowd.
Another useful resource to be aware of is Tech Support For Boomers and Beyond, also aimed at the over-50 audience. This program tries to demystify the tools of the day. But not just computer tools:
Those seeking technological assistance of any kind, for any electronic device, can have a one-on-one conversation, for as long as it takes, with a technical expert who will explain in a (thank heavens) familiar human voice in easy-to-follow language the mysteries of a camcorder, a Web browser, a smart phone, digital camera, an iPad and, yes, even a router.
What’s most valuable is the ability to actually call someone to help with digital camera or smartphone needs. I’m surprised that no one has launched something like this for the general market. I’m sure there are many younger people who would find this useful as well. In addition, the unlimited call-in opportunity is impressive for a service that works out to about $10 a month.
This is only the tip of the iceberg. More and more information and services to aid seniors with technology become available on a daily basis. While it can still be a struggle for some older adults, the proper resources can ease the process considerably, and help them embrace computers, the Internet, and all kinds of gadgets as tools that can improve daily life… no matter how old you are.