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Simplifying computer usage with easy-to-use software...and other musings

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?




Ms. Orlov,

I get it. My wife works for ancor (http://www.ancor.org) and finds this useful as well.

Good job!


I have been reading your RSS feeds for the last week or so, and find the information very interesting.

I am involved with two computer user groups, with a high percentage of seniors and boomers, but I have not seen much from assistive technology vendors. The only one I can think of is http://www.aisquared.com/, which made a presentation at the APCUG/FACUG 2009 Spring Conference a week or so ago.

I think that computer user groups would be a great place for these kinds of vendors to get good feedback by providing copies of their software, which after review would be published in the group's newsletter and/or website, thus reaching like minded people, rather than the general public.

I also think computer user groups are the best way for seniors and boomers to become involved with computer use. http://cdb.apcug.org/loclist.asp is a link to the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG) User Group Locator.

I am a boomer myself. Keep up the good work.

I wish there was such a push for assisting seniors with technology in Australia! There are several organisations doing great things, but nowhere near the consciousness regarding this issue that exists in Europe and the USA (at least that's my impression).

My company has recently developed "Big Buttons", which generates large, easy to read/ use buttons linked to popular computer tasks such as 'turning off the computer' and 'searching the Internet', and after much deliberation we have decided to make it free for download here: www.bigbuttons.com.au/free-download.

I would be very interested to hear what you think of this software and if it can actually assist seniors with getting involved with technology!


Ben Hall
Director, Dream Vine Pty Ltd (Big Buttons)


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