July 16, 2007 12:05 PM PDT

Eldercare technologies must go beyond big fonts

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SAN FRANCISCO--Super-sizing the font isn't the only solution when developing eldercare technologies. Try antiglare and intuitive control features to deal with seniors' diminishing eyesight, a Forrester Research analyst suggested Monday.

That was just some of the advice doled out by Elizabeth Boehm during a keynote speech at the fourth annual Healthcare Unbound Conference, which is primarily focused on technology-aided self care, mobile care and home care.

Some of the obstacles seniors face in adopting technology, Boehm noted, include difficulties adjusting focus rapidly and noticing great detail, which makes flashing images on display screens difficult to tolerate. The principal analyst plans to issue a report in coming days that explores whether older generations are embracing new technologies or younger generations are simply bringing their technological acumen along with them as they age.

"Seniors have varying abilities and disabilities...If you plan to go after the senior market, you'll need four or five different senior personas," Boehm said, noting that it's not a one-size-fits-all market.

Age not only brings diminished eyesight but also a weakened ability to recognize color contrasts, she noted, pointing out that blues may be difficult to detect for seniors who are suffering from cataracts. That's a point Web designers may consider, before drafting up a site targeting seniors.

Diminished hearing is also a common challenge among the elderly, who not only find it necessary to turn up the volume on devices but can struggle with hearing high-pitched tones.

"Most of us have heard little beeps to remind us to do this or that, but they need to be louder and lower tones," advised Boehm, who co-founded Forrester's Healthcare & Life Sciences research practice in 1999.

Dexterity can also be an issue, making it more difficult for the elderly to operate devices. Boehm suggested that product developers, as an extreme example, put on an oven mitt and gauge the ease of use in manipulating the device they're designing.

Reduced cognitive capacity of seniors requires developers to give the elderly more control over the speed of their devices and more time when prompting them through the instructions, she noted.

"They need to simplify, without dumbing it down," Boehm advised. "Make the navigation step-by-step and task-oriented, and make (assistive) tools invisible...Seniors don't always identify as old and sick."

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Some good ideas here, but . . .
I'd like to emphasize three points.

First, some of the suggestions are relevant to people of all ages, having more to do with good design than with compensation for declining physical and/or mental sharpness.

Second, if we are genuinely talking about enhancing accessibility, some of these suggestions can be easily and appropriately adapted to make sites more usable by younger disabled people -- even when there are no funds or (sadly) no inclination to meet higher accessibility standards.

Finally, the notion of "seniors" is often bandied about on the web as though there were no distinctions between fifty-year-olds and centenarians. Let's remember that experience and interest level are relevant to usability regardless of age.
Posted by infomaven (2 comments )
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Eldercare Tech. must go ... article
You knew there was trouble brewing when ALL phone providers chged their landline phone buttons and the size to look like a handheld phone. There isn't one provider that sales a phone that has the feel & looks of that "princess phone" -- THAT IS CORDLESS. From this next came the PC, etc. etc. If you have Medicare turn in your high-tec equipment -- you are not their target audience. You're out of luck!
Posted by atighe4 (3 comments )
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