Technology Made Easier for Technology Averse People

While technology seems a clear boon to many people, including elders and people with disabilities, others may find it too intimidating. This article talks about products and strategies that simplify the process of using technology or that provide up-to-date capabilities via familiar products, such as televisions and refrigerators.

Not using current technology may present significant barriers, such as the inability to use an ever-increasing number of services that are only available online: applying for jobs, cutting through governmental red tape, or communicating with banks and other companies. More personal barriers may involve the desire to stay in touch with friends or family members who only communicate via e-mail or other electronic formats.

Resistance to using new technology is particularly high for individuals with Alzheimer's and similar conditions, who may flat-out reject the introduction of any new objects into their environment. For these individuals, the only option to introduce technology may be to use already-familiar objects.

Fortunately, categories of products are evolving around the need to address the needs of people who are technology averse. Several of these are listed below.

  • Celery is a way to use email using a fax machine rather than a computer. The user handwrites or types a message and sends it via fax; it appears as an attachment in the email inbox of one or more designated recipients. The recipient can then email a response and have it printed out on the user's fax machine. Users can also access pictures, Twitter, Facebook, and RSS feeds via Celery. A similar service from Hewlett-Packard, Presto, only provides email, and only in one direction: the user can receive but not send emails.
  • Several simplified cell phones have been developed with elders in mind, but these can also be used by others who do not wish to have overly complex mobile phones. The best known of these is probably the Jitterbug, which has large buttons, a large-print display, and omits most non-telephone related features of other phones. In addition, all responses can be given by pressing either the Yes or No button, and pressing 0 automatically connects the user with Jitterbug technical support. The Bluechip big button phone has some interesting and unique features, including a flashlight, an FM radio, and a programmable emergency call button.
  • Skype is a common way to place free phone calls anywhere in the world, but it traditionally required computer use. Selected televisions and Blu-Ray players now have Skype capabilities, so that individuals can use technology that they're already familiar with to take full advantage of Skype's features.
  • Twitter has exceptional potential for allowing useful and discrete communications from inanimate objects. For example, @mytoaster is set up to automatically send messages when bread has been inserted and when the toast is done. The same strategy could be used with a familiar coffeepot owned by someone with Alzheimer's who lives alone; when the pot is lifted, it could send a message to loved ones that the person is awake and active. If the message is not received, it may be an alert that the person needs help. Other applications include GPS-enabled devices that tweet a person's location once per hour (good for people who tend to wander), and refrigerators that tweet an order to the grocery store when the owner runs out of frequently-used products. A slightly more sophisticated option is Buddy Radio, where the user turns a dial on a radio-like device to reflect their mood, and the result is sent out via Twitter.
  • Many simplified computer setups have been designed for elders with no prior computer experience. These include Guide, software that provides a simple, large-print interface for word processing, email, etc; InTouchLink, a website that enhances ease of use by listing suggested websites in specific categories; and the A Plus Senior Computer, which is a preconfigured laptop.

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