Washington, May 4 : While many of us have become accustomed to or grown up with PCs in the home and workplace, some seniors have a unique set of needs that are not often catered by the tech world.
And in order to cater to the special needs of this special section of society, the Misericordia University Assistive Technology Research Institute (ATRI) is developing the Elder Interface for computer users that have special requirements.
Soon, the new program will be available in newly purchased computers for people that need changes in the way the screen, mouse and keyboard behave. The simplified interface includes larger icons, fonts and other special features.
ATRI and Denis Anson, director of research and development, are participating in a new Microsoft campaign, called 'SeniorPC' that was launched in Miami, Fla.
The campaign encourages the underserved population to use computers and participate in the electronic age through training and education exercises.
The program also provides low-cost refurbished computers to program participants.
Under the contract between Microsoft and ATRI, Anson will be monitoring the training provided to elders participating in the program and similar programs around the country, and improve upon training methods to meet the special needs of elders.
"For younger learners, offering multiple ways to perform any task allows the student to find the way that works best for them. With elders, multiple approaches can increase confusion. The new training materials we are developing will provide one way to do any task. It may not be the fastest, but it is one that you can count on,'' explained Anson.
Not only this, the new SeniorPC training materials will also be customized to meet the needs of older learners.
"Some actions are more difficult to do with 70-year-old hands. We try to avoid those as much as possible. The other programs we've evaluated show a good understanding of computer functioning, but a weaker understanding of the needs of elders,'' said Anson.
He said that the new training is being developed as part of Microsoft's SeniorPC program. Once the training has been tested, Microsoft will be launching it nationally.
Besides this, Microsoft is also trying to collaborate with Hewlett Packard and Dell to provide special computer systems through Microsoft Marketplace as the second component of the SeniorPC project.
The packages will include computer systems with the most commonly needed software for e-mail, Web browsing and writing. Also, it will provide adaptations tailoring the computer according to elders' needs, including specialized interface devices. One of the options featured on the computers will be the Elder Interface.
"It's important to make the interface adaptations before an older person asks for help. If you wait for elders to say that the computer needs to change, they are more likely to say that they don't want to use it,'' said Anson.
The main aim of the SeniorPC project is to narrow the digital divide between younger and the older lot of society. However, it could also have far-reaching effects in helping to address at least one issue in the national health care crisis.
Already, national health care professionals have claimed that telemedicine may reduce the overall cost of health care. Patients can seek timely medical consultations with a physician or a member of their medical staff by utilizing computer technology like Web cameras, blogs and e-mails, thus saving time, money and lives.