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RE: Call for Review and Participation: WAI-AGE Literature Review and Task Force

From: Jim Tobias <tobias@inclusive.com>
Date: Sat, 17 May 2008 08:20:18 -0400
To: "'WAI Interest Group'" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Message-ID: <035201c8b818$5fac1c60$6801a8c0@delldesk>

Thanks for the pointer to this excellent literature review:

I have a few comments to make, mostly about the psychological, social, and
cultural contexts in which ICT lives, rather than the design factors that
can make it more usable and accessible to older users.  I think that these
former factors are much more powerful than the latter in determining how
successful we are at fully integrating older users in ICT.  If this is not
the right venue to make such comments, I apologize and ask to be pointed in
the proper direction.

1. Some elders may believe that "aging" means "a natural reduction in human
capability" and thus an automatic reduction in function.  We may receive
such messages from the cultures we live in.  Low adoption rates (such as
those in Section 2.2.1) may signal not a usability gap but a willingness to
slough off certain functions, especially those (such as ICT) associated with
immediacy and speed.  This is clearly a non-technological problem.  In fact,
it's already recognized at the beginning of Section 2.2 in citing the
Kantner and Rosenbaum study: if their children are a primary reason for
seniors to start using computers, then there may be something absent or
ambivalent in the seniors' own motivation.  How can we encourage further
study into the question of motivation and autonomy?

2. The "aging boomer" argument that "once a successful ICT user, always a
successful ICT user", noted by the author at the end of the Section 2.2
introduction, may need to be refined.  It may be that even successful ICT
users tend to freeze their ICT preferences as they age; witness the
relatively low adoption of texting by older email users.  How many over-40
subscribers does Twitter have?  What if the rapid pace of market-driven
technological change excludes users from some important channels and content
if they do not adopt?  Perhaps we can develop a "classic rock" solution:
provide a portal to Web 2.0 (and 3.0, 4.0...) for users who are more
comfortable with an "older" interface.

3. "Training the elderly" (as in Section 3.4) should perhaps give way to a
broader concept of providing comprehensive support to new older users.  Some
of the problems and solutions in Table 5 are essentially psychological; some
of the corresponding solutions are social or otherwise non-technological.
More and better trained coaches would address some issues, as would programs
that address families and social networks.  Web tours and remote
administration are technological answers to some of the others.

4. Technologies are only options to meet human needs or preferences.
Consider a newspaper reader whose vision is beginning to fail.  That user

- continue the newspaper subscription without reading it
- cancel the subscription without replacing it with another medium
- substitute radio or television news broadcasts for the newspaper
- make more phone calls to friends and relatives who are interested in the
- get and learn to use a computer, a screen magnifier, a browser, and an
Internet connection and collect and organize bookmarks for online newspapers
or other news sources

Some of these options are easier than others, and not only in the
"usability" sense.  Examining ICT offerings in this broader context may
inform how we make ICT more usable and accessible, and it may also influence
our policy recommendations once the technological job is "done".

Jim Tobias
Inclusive Technologies
+1.732.441.0831 v/tty
+1.908.907.2387 mobile
skype jimtobias
Received on Saturday, 17 May 2008 12:21:03 UTC

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