I came back from last week's Aging in America conference impressed again by the level of new business energy pouring into technology simplification and demystification for seniors. When you think about it, this is a real commentary on the original feature-rich and common-sense-poor engineering of most products, designed by geeks, for themselves to admire, from smart phones to office software to TV remote control devices, DVR, wireless network configuration, and on and on.
[I digress briefly: This probably explains the press fascination with YARP -- Yet Another Research Project -- at MIT's Age Lab, a press-appealing age suit that young engineers can hop into and thus 'feel' the burden of aging -- poor vision, slow moving limbs, balance issues, etc. I hope this suit leads to useful products, I really do. Please don't answer this rhetorical question: did the great male designers of women's clothing feel they needed to dress in it to design it? Just asking. End of digression.]
ASA exhibit hall vendors were seeking visibility with an audience of professionals that work in one or another tier of the aging industry -- home care, assisted living, senior center, geriatric care management, gerontologists, and more. Check out this complete list of exhibitors.
I also attended the CSUN event in Los Angeles, where the exhibit hall was filled with vendors of assistive technology (see complete list) -- the hall I visited was largely addressing vision impairment and other limitations that made direct interaction with a screen and a mouse difficult.
It is curious to me that these markets are approached so separately. The product purposes are distinct, the customer is perceived to be quite different. I didn't see any exhibitor overlap -- and yet an intersection of interests is clear -- at least to me. As individuals age, they may acquire vision, mobility, hearing, and dexterity issues. As those with disabilities age, they may form into subgroups with what are now perceived as aging-related needs. A few examples:
In the assistive technology corner: Read How You Want offers books in any format -- large print, recorded, whatever media. Qullsoft offers software that makes writing easier. And Qualilife provides a whole range of home and office software that eliminates the need for mouse and keyboard.
And in the aging services corner: Big Screen Live, SoftShell,and Famililink are in the (fairly new) business of making computers easier for seniors to use. These three lend themselves to being used with touch screens like the HP TouchSmart and now the Asus Eee Top all-in-one PCs, both of which can be manipulated with a finger or a stylus -- instead of a mouse and keyboard.
So what does this mean? Vendors in the simplification arena should look at expanding their market by considering design and accessibility compliance. Vendors in the assistive technology arena should add marketing messaging that would expand their market into aging-related services.
Or to put it another way, why not?