Note: This is the first in a series of articles on how major consumer electronics companies are addressing the needs of boomers and seniors.
It’s eleven o’clock at Middlebrook Farms, a senior living community in Trumbull, Conn. There’s a line for the three HP Touchsmart workstations in the library. Retired art teacher Lottie Palmer, 91, is assisted at one computer by an “ambassador” who helps her to write a story. At another computer, 84-year-old Ida Janowitz gets help scrolling through pictures of her old haunts in Austin, Texas. At the third computer, a grandmother dutifully plays Tic Tac Toe with her grandson via email. For each, the experience at Middlebrook is their first exposure to computers.
A thousand miles away, at another assisted living home in DesPlaines, Ill., residents are using HP Slate tablets.
In both locations, the software suite is provided by Connected Living. Both the tablets and the desktops are set up so residents can video chat with friends and family, a huge plus for a population often separated from loved ones by thousands of miles. The software is configured to allow users easy access to daily needs like a community calendar, email and personal stories.
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Hewlett Packard is not the only computer maker to consider the needs of boomers and seniors in designing products. But it has taken the lead. Its TouchSmart 610 is probably one of the best examples.
This all-in-one computer lets the user interact with it using touch, a keyboard and mouse, and even voice. It has a 23-inch diagonal screen, which can lean back at a 65-degree angle, so you can use it like a tablet. You can start programs with the touch of a finger, or sit side by side with a grandchild to scroll through photographs. The multi-touch screen enables the user to expand text or pictures with a pinch.
But HP says this is just one of many products that consider seniors and boomers in product design.
Glenn Meyer, the engineering program manager at HP’s Accessibility & Aging Program Office, says, “We involve people with disabilities and age-related limitations in the development of accessibility guidelines and in the design and testing of our products and services, so that they are easier to use now and in the future as technology evolves.” The result is a feature set that HP believes serves the needs of people with age-related limitations. Those features include:
- Buttons and other mechanical controls that are tactilely sensitive and do not require excessive force to operate. Text and icon labels have higher contrast to support low-vision accessibility.
- Most designs include features for single-handed operation for persons with limited mobility.
- HP PCs are compatible with leading third-party assistive technology, so it is simple to add and go.
- Product documentation is available in soft copy to be used by screen readers or printed by Braille embossers.
- Some LCD monitors have a unique HP “dual-hinge” stand design that allows adjustability for individuals who use bifocal, trifocal or multi-focal lenses.
- HP Products support all Microsoft Windows accessibility features, including screen magnification, keyboard navigation, speech-to-text command and control, and color and contrast settings.
Besides HP’s Accessibility and Aging Program Office, the company has another group devoted to ergonomics. In particular this group looks at things like the most comfortable screen positioning to help those of us who may wear bifocals or trifocals.
While HP does not provide any specific training to its retailers to help boomers or seniors, it does train its customer service representatives to meet their needs. HP has teamed up with Microsoft and EnableMart to offer seniors a line of computers that come pre-configured with an easy to use suite of software applications. For those who want to be connected by email but don’t want a computer, HP has the HP Printing Mailbox with Presto Service.
While HP does offer a host of services and technologies aimed at boomers and seniors, they are not always easy to find. Searching HP’s website for “Accessibility” and “Aging” came up with hundreds of results. Searching for “Age related disabilities” yielded no useful results.
HP does have dedicated customer service lines for the hard of hearing (using Telecommunications Relay Service [TRS], Video Relay Service [VRS] and Web Captioned Telephone). It also has a special number for customers with other disabilities or age-related limitations to call for technical support or help with accessibility questions about HP products: (888) 259-5707.
While HP prides itself on being on the cutting edge of technology, it also recognizes that technology is only part of the solution. Computer-savvy boomers may need a little help when it comes to screen issues and input methods. But for seniors who’ve never used a computer in the workplace or had one at home, the services are every bit as important as the technology. That’s why Sarah Hoit founded Connected Living, with the idea of improving the quality of life for seniors.
Hoit says, “We thought this would be a lot more about the devices, but it’s not, it’s really about creating a private experience that allows seniors to connect with the rest of the world. Using funding from federal grants Connected Living has put together suites of as many as 150 programs. They allow seniors in public housing and in assisted living facilities not only to connect with their world, video chat with their loved ones, but also to get easy access to the government services and benefits to which they may be entitled.
With programs in 14 states and in hundreds of facilities, Connected Living is off to a good start, says Hoit. She believes, for seniors, the cost of not being connected is simply too great.
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