How To Tap Into The Invisible Consumer Base: People With Disabilities And Older Adults

How can technology be accessible to the disability and aging communities?

Panelists at The Free Library Of Philadelphia

Panelists at The Free Library Of Philadelphia

There is an obvious disconnect when it comes to accessibility and underserved groups. It is no secret that older individuals seem disinterested in learning to keep up with the times. Tobey Dichter, Founder & CEO of Generations on Line, explained that it is oftentimes fear which masquerades as indifference. There are real reasons why some are inhibited from becoming active consumers of technology. An individual may discover internet illiteracy when attempting basic use after a lifetime of independence. Another might be embarrassed that instructions are given at a speed that is incomprehensible, as most applications are designed and assumed to be intuitive. There is also concern that a device might break. These stem from a generational difference, as a lot of people who feel this way have lived through a time when they could not “unburn the toast.”

So, what can successfully motivate a person to overcome the intimidation, limited skill, or difficulty to gain access to technology? Any reluctance of facing fears will quickly dissipate when it is learned that technology is a means to become and stay engaged. The social isolation many older adults experience is yet another disability, as communicating with family members and other people in their communities becomes increasingly hard. The immediate benefits are not always conspicuous to everyone.

Technology must be presented in a way that makes sense to its audience. “This has nothing to do with intelligence. Grey hair does not mean senile,” Bill Thompson, an older adult software trainer, explained. Information must be given in a relative way, particularly to those who view the internet as foreign. Everyone is capable of utilizing the internet, learning computer skills, and remaining a lifelong learner, whether they know it or not.

Philadelphia has a wealth of programs and companies that strive to make more appropriate services to engage all members of society. Sandra McNally, Director of Pennsylvania’s Initiative on Assistive Technology, was on panel and shared helpful information on behalf of the organization, including a description of its services. One invaluable way PIAT helps is by loaning assistive technology devices, at no cost, to try out at school, work, or at home. The cost of purchasing such tools is often prohibitive, so to have a way for individuals to test something before investing in a product is a prime example of how Philly works hard to serve assisted communities.

The discussion at The Free Library aimed to address the challenges and opportunities related to technology within the disability and aging communities but also brought another idea to light: HACK4ACCESS – a hackathon scheduled to take place from May 30 – June 1.




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