Blind World Magazine

Computers that adapt as their users age.
Saturday, September 09, 2006.

Eric Dishman calls it a "demographic tidal wave," and its effects are being felt worldwide.

Dishman, chairman of the Centre for Aging Services Technologies (CAST) and General Manager of Health Research and Innovation Group at Intel Corporation, is referring to the exploding worldwide population of "seniors" - people who are age 60 or above. The United Nations estimates that the worldwide senior population was 600 million in the year 2000. This number is expected to double to 1.2 billion by 2025, and surge to over 2 billion by 2050.

In some countries, including Italy and Japan, 20 percent or more of the population is at least 65 years old. Many other countries will reach this milestone within the next two decades.

Large numbers of these seniors are staying in the workforce, some for years beyond their traditional retirement age. Some countries are even enticing older citizens to stay in the workforce longer by raising the age at which they can receive retirement benefits.

As more people live and work longer, they also are likely to experience more age-related changes in their vision, hearing and dexterity. Some functional losses are accelerated by the onset of age-related degenerative diseases and ailments, including hypertension, osteoporosis, diabetes and macular degeneration. Disabling conditions, including arthritis and orthopedic impairments, tend to manifest themselves as the body ages.

These types of changes can affect a person's capacity to use and interact with computing devices and environments.

Companies like HP and Microsoft® are addressing the needs of the aging workforce by making computers easier to use. "Seniors" aren't the only ones who benefit, though.

"There is a 100% chance that each of us is getting older every day," says Michael Takemura, director of the HP Accessibility Program Office. "But you don't have to be over 60 years of age to need some kind of 'accommodation' in your work environment. People who have hit 40 find they need reading glasses or they begin having difficulties with their hearing or dexterity. They may even face a temporary limitation - hurting your arm or hand playing sports over the weekend - and are challenged to access their computer on Monday morning. We all encounter situations where we need a work environment that adapts to our needs." Here are a few ways that computers have become more "user friendly" for people who need some kind of accommodation, including those mature workers in the office.

Displays and readability options can be set to enlarge text and images on the screen for easier viewing.

Options in Windows® XP make sounds easier to hear or distinguish, and you can have visual cues as an alternative to sound.

Software can adjust keyboards and mice to make them easier to use. For example, you can set "StickyKeys" to allow pressing one key at a time sequentially instead of pressing multiple keys (like Ctrl-Alt-Del) simultaneously.

The Accessibility Wizard in Windows® XP can help new users quickly and easily set up groups of accessibility options that address visual , hearing and dexterity needs all in one place. The Accessibility Wizard asks questions about accessibility needs. Then, based on the answers, it configures utilities and settings for individual users.

For people who need more accommodation, there are various types of assistive technology products, specially designed to provide additional accessibility to individuals who have physical or cognitive difficulties, impairments, and disabilities.

HP can help you select the right assistive technology for your needs. You can conveniently and privately shop online for such solutions when you are ready to buy.


Who knows? As more mature workers fill the office cubicles, the absolute coolest computer accessory could one day be something like a screen reader or a keyless keyboard.

Microsoft and Windows are U.S. registered trademarks of Microsoft Corporation.

End of article.

Any further reproduction or distribution of this article in a format other than a specialized format, may be an infringement of copyright.

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