Written by Eva (Zichen) Wang

Author’s Note: I am a third-year Honours Health and Society student, minoring in Psychology. I am passionate about how society and students like myself can provide a more inclusive environment for seniors.  My program provides me with a sound theoretical and practical background in understanding Canadian Health Care, especially from a social perspective. As a volunteer this year with Hamilton Aging in Community, I will offer written posts from time to time.  

How comfortable are you when using digital technology? In recent decades, advances in digital technology aim to increase seniors’ well-being.  Indeed, technological solutions can help seniors live on their own longer (eg, smart house, security, fall detectors).

While there is an advancement in the convenience of daily lives, navigating the digital world can be challenging for older adults. There is a disparity between the availability of technology and its actual adoption. Negative stereotypes can pose barriers to the development of technology for older adults (eg, seniors are ‘technology blind’, not ready to adopt new technology, and not ready to learn new ways). Also, product designers may not realize or acknowledge the barriers that older adults face when accessing technologies. They are more inclined to design technologies for users like themselves rather than conducting usability assessments on older adults. With increasing age, older adults tend to experience challenges like vision decline, short-term memory, and physical limitation. Muscles are not as responsive as before, specifically, the coordination between our brain and other body parts slowly weakens. Stereotypes and the range of age-related challenges pose barriers to the design process.  

Inclusion of older adults in the initial design phase for high-tech products and services can establish mutual understanding between the product designer and the aging community. For instance, surveillance technologies may be beneficial in ensuring the safety of frail seniors, but they also create privacy concerns about monitoring the home.  In this case, involving older adults in the development of a monitoring program would likely yield better adoption because of managing the types and timing of privacy loss and the ease of making personal choices.

The inclusion of older adults’ feedback on their interactions and experiences with digital technologies may lead to better technology development. Recently, researchers utilized older adults’ physical and mental clues (e.g., eye movement, facial expression, brain activities) in developing a new user experience lab on wheels. Researchers can drive the mobile facility directly into the community, where older adults can enter the trailer where their interaction and experience with technology can be assessed. As a supplement to the usage of interviews, and surveys, the incorporation of neurophysiological clues can provide an increased understanding of individuals’ feelings and struggles when using specific digital technologies. From there, researchers can provide concrete design guidelines to make digital products and services more accessible and inclusive for older adults. 

Companies like Samsung are consulting older adults in more and wiser ways in their effort to introduce more inclusive products for the senior population. When assessing household appliances, Samsung invites older adults and people with disabilities to provide their insight into improving product accessibility. One new feature for a smart stove, developed in this way by Samsung, is the Virtual Flame, to enable users with visual impairment to make meals more comfortably and safely. LED lights are designed to shine onto pots and pans to create the impression of flames, allowing older adults to check the strength of the flame easily. This co-design approach integrates older adults’ insight into the designing process to enhance everyday activities. 

The consideration of older adults’ technological-related challenges while improving digital accessibility and inclusion for older adults shall enrich their well-being. To quote Dr. Head “We need to make sure that [older adults] are not left behind, and that they’re not denied really important services, interactions, and experiences that other parts of our population might be experiencing.” Together, we may become more considerate and bring an inclusive technological environment for older adults and people with disabilities.

For further interest  

Bryant, J. A & David, P. Solving for Inclusive Technology for Older Adults. AARP International. https://www.aarpinternational.org/the-journal/current-edition/journal-articles-blog/2020/10/bryant_david

Habibi, M. (2021). Designing Digital Applications for Elderly People. https://uxplanet.org/designing-digital-applications-for-elderly-peoples-208854ec286

Hatzifilalithis, S & Dalmer, N. (2022). Ageism in tech: Older adults should be included in the design of new technologies. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/ageism-in-tech-older-adults-should-be-included-in-the-design-of-new-technologies-187119

Samsung Newsroom UK. (2017). How Samsung’s Inclusive Appliances Deliver Convenience to More Consumers. https://news.samsung.com/uk/how-samsungs-inclusive-appliances-deliver-convenience-to-more-consumers

Williams, J. (2022). New research improves digital accessibility for older adults. https://brighterworld.mcmaster.ca/articles/new-research-improves-digital-accessibility-for-older-adults/