Intel, one of the world’s largest computer manufacturers, realizes the physical and psychological limitations that seniors may have when it comes to computers. However, the company also knows how beneficial these devices can be to a senior’s livelihood, especially for the 11 million seniors who, according to SavvySenior.org, live alone in America.
This is why Intel recently partnered with the Industrial Development Agency Ireland (IDA Ireland) and the Technology Research for Independent Living Centre (TRIL Centre) on a pilot program calledBuilding Bridges. The eight-week program, which launched in early August, will provide 20 seniors living alone with electronic tablets that they can use to view news broadcasts or documentaries, chat with relatives or others watching the same programs via phone or internet, and write and read e-mails. Each senior also chose five friends or relatives to receive a PC version of this program, allowing them to chat and watch broadcasts with the participants.
The idea of making computers and the internet simpler, more direct and more accessible to seniors – all of which are goals of Building Bridges – are obviously not new. ElderGadget alone has covered three highly innovative products, including SeniorPCs, Shuttles’ X50 andCelery, that have done just that.
What the Building Bridges test program did that the others didn’t, however, was design both the physical unit and software system with senior citizens in mind. It doesn’t just provide a senior-friendly keyboard or a simplified e-mail program that must be integrated into a system designed for users half their age. Rather, Building Bridges took the designs of modern-day computers and internet browsers and translated them into a senior-friendly device. The electronic tablet sits easily on any table or hard surface and contains a 12-inch touch screen, two built-in speakers, a power button and a modem outlet for a phone line.
The power button is clearly marked with a green circle and engages with a simple push. This is the only physical button on the tablet, so it’s easy to locate.
The screen is large enough to read without making the tablet too bulky for crowded tables or too difficult for the senior to move easily.
The touch screen buttons are also large and clearly marked by oversized, simple-to-read text. The readability of the buttons could be improved, however, by making the font bolder, as the letters can appear large but thin.
The display could also benefit from a more dramatic contrast, as the tablet’s menu utilizes light colors, such as white, light gray and powder blue (though the text mostly remains black). The touch screen keyboard gets it right, however, by placing black letters on yellowish keys, a high-contrast color scheme that is considered ideal for people with visual impairments.
The options are kept to a minimum on Intel’s tablet. They include Create Chat, Read Messages, Write Messages and Upcoming Broadcast. Being that this device is in its trial phase, the news and documentary choices are pre-programmed. This allows all trial and PC participants to watch the same program at the same time and then chat about it in an online “tea room” afterwards, should they choose. No word on how the program options may change if this device becomes widely available.
All four menu options seem easy to navigate, per the demonstration that aired on Irish TV station’s TV3. The Upcoming Broadcast button prompts a program to play, the Read and Write Messages buttons prompt a large keyboard and notepad to appear and the Create Chat option allows the user to touch and drag his contacts, represented by people icons, into a large circle where they can all chat.
Being that there’s no physical keyboard or mouse, all users must be able to keep their arms elevated in order to touch the various commands. While this may be easy for many seniors to do once or twice during a sitting, such as when they’re watching a broadcast, it can become cumbersome to constantly have one’s arm, elbow, wrist and finger bent when typing an e-mail or chatting in the “tea room.” It may also be difficult for those with less than perfect hand-eye coordination to drag the people icons into the chat circle.
Despite a few downfalls it’s clear that this device has great potential for connecting isolated seniors to the rest of the world. Its simple design and limited commands may help bridge the gap between seniors and the internet – a place that, despite having numerous beneficial features, still intimidates many. The tablet has definitely been a success with at least one participant, Diarmuid Fitzpatrick, who told Irish TV’s TV3 that seniors should learn to embrace any helpful technology, especially when it’s provided in a simplified form that is tailor-made for their demographic.
“In the old days, people over 70 would be dead… [but] it’s that modern technology and the analysis that has kept us alive,” he said. “So if they keep improving [technology] it will improve the standard of our living. Anything that can stop our deterioration, which is likely to happen as people get older, has to be a help. It can’t do any harm.”