Chronicle

Focus on elderly users

Every now and then, someone who tries to replace the complicated and perhaps a bit dry word ”accessibility” with something sexier, in order to increase interest and reach out to new groups.

Susanna Laurin

Title: Chief Research and Innovation Officer

One of many ideas on that theme has been to focus on elderly users. It is quite logical: we live longer and many are very active after retirement. Elderly are generally seen as quite a wealthy target group and today's retired use digital services to a greater extent than before. If we could call accessibility "UX for seniors" or something similar, we might reach better impact?

Maybe. Broadening the potential target group gives a larger potential market, which we can easily agree about. But even though many elderly have a disability and many disabled people are elderly, there is a risk of viewing them as one group; Children, young people and middle-aged people with disabilities may indeed have the same physical needs as elderly, but at the same time completely different wishes. The solutions can also differ - or be the same. It sort of depends.

Standardization and inclusion

So far, the elderly and the accessibility perspectives are tseen as wo parallel tracks that occasionally cross each other. Not least in standardization, where there are currently several exciting initiatives. Funka has a strong position within what is called Active and Healthy Aging, or AHA in EU languages, as we lead and coordinate the European Innovation Partnership EIPonAHA since 2015. To contribute knowledge about accessibility in this context feels increasingly important.

I recently had the privilege of lecturing at a Joint Intergroup Meeting in the EU Parliament, where we discussed, among other things, the need to involve the elderly in the development of smart solutions. The EU-funded research project Mobile AGE presented interesting results of what is called co-creation, another buzzword in the EU right now. Co-creation can sound a little exuberant, but the concept that, based on the users' needs, can never be wrong. Together with older residents of Bremen (Germany), South Lakeland (England), Zaragoza (Spain) and Central Macedonia, the project has developed public data based on open data. Social issues, the possibility to stay at home longer, increased accessibility in the outdoor environment and health-related information were some of the subject areas the target groups chose to focus on. Pleasingly, both parliamentarians and commissioners were positive and engaged in the debate. The elderly question is likely to remain in focus.

Progressive is another exciting project, which has developed a framework for inclusion of older users in standardization. At the closing conference where I lectured, many good ideas were presented. Most people agree that standards are needed to create age-friendly interfaces. But exactly what that means, no one wants to describe. Personally, I notice the very big differences between Northern and Southern Europe in the view of where the boundary goes for who is considered "elderly" and what needs this (very heterogeneous) target group is expected to have. In the debate, I tried to provoke by questioning the need for more elderly people in standardization. Obviously, it is important to have the target group, but as I see it we have a bigger problem: a lack of younger people who want to work as technial experts. The participants at the conference looked, just like all standardization committees I participate in, to have quite a high average age.

Experience, of course, weighs heavily, but I also believe in diversity in terms of age, just as we would like to see experts with different backgrounds and abilities.

Susanna Laurin
CEO, Funka

Progressive Standards around ICT for Active and Healthy Ageing, opens in new window

Mobile-Age, opens in new window

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