Assisting Elderly Friends and Family with Accessibility Apr 12, 2017

Grandfather and Grandmother holding two young children

Sometimes we all need a little extra help to learn a new skill. This is absolutely true for new technology since there are constantly new versions and updates being released. It can be tough for anyone to keep up. The issue is that a lot of these technological advancements are built to help people. If they are not put into the hands of the people who need them the most, then they are not doing as much good as they could. That is why it is important to help spread the word about helpful tech as well as take the time to teach people who could potentially benefit from it.

One group that could really benefit from some of the new technology that is coming out is the elderly. However, that might seem a bit daunting for certain people since they sometimes proclaim that it is too hard to catch up with the latest advancements. This is absolutely untrue, and there are a lot of tech companies with entire divisions devoted to making sure the user interfaces of their products are intuitive and inviting. Especially for products and tools that are specifically designed to benefit the elderly. If you want to help your elderly friends and family to adopt technology that could really help them (or that they’ll just enjoy), then there are a few things you can do right now. Here are some steps you can take to make sure they have access to the technology they need.

Ask them what they typically have issues with when using the internet or computer.

I guess we should back up. If they do not use tech much at all, you might ask them what they want to do with technology. They might want to keep up with friends and family, watch shows or movies, research information, play games, and any one of the other infinite number of things you can do online. Then, ask them what issues they tend to have that have prevented them from trying things out. It might be poor eyesight, arthritis, again there are a lot of options. Find out what they want to do online and what might inhibit those goals.

Help them research remedies for the problems they have identified.

Sometimes there is a solution already out there, just waiting to be discovered. Other times, you will only be able to find tech that helps with certain aspects of the problem. Don’t get discouraged and remember that any assistance you provide can go a long way. Also remember not to put everything on the computer or device at once. You should discuss the options with the person and see what they think sounds best. If you try to test out every solution you risk overwhelming yourself and the person that you are trying to help. Take it slowly and find the fix that matches the issues they are having.

Help them to install and try out the solutions.

Now that you found some things that might work and have agreed on a path forward, help them to learn and get comfortable with the technology. This part can be short and simple or a lot longer depending on how well you both understand the tech and how complex it is. The discovery phase will be well worth the effort; as assistive technology can really help to open up the online world for all users.

Help Out!

Our elderly population should be able to access and utilize technology simply and without stress. They need it, and we should be there to help them achieve the digital fluency that we expect from younger generations. Work with your elderly neighbors and friends to find assistive technology that works for them.  

Some helpful suggestions are:

  • Screen Readers – This tech is great for anyone with low vision. You can easily have a screen reader tell you what is on the screen in front of you. One challenge is that some screen readers tell you everything (including font size and color). This can be a little confusing at first, and might take a bit to get used to for a while. Still, if they want to keep in touch with friends and family, having an email read to them might be really helpful. It takes patience and practice, but eventually your friend will find that screen readers can transform large chunks of text into audio with little effort.
  • Increasing the Font Size – It can be just that simple. That’s one of the reasons we developed UserWay.org’s widget for websites to install. Text on digital devices can vary greatly in size. While some people can read the text without any problems, others might need it to be a bit bigger. Zooming in is alright, but it can distort things a little. Most computers and even smartphones come with an enlarge text setting. This gives people with poor eyesight the option to see text more easily without needing to bring the device closer to their field of vision.
  • Speech to Text Programs – If you are helping someone with arthritis or mobility issues, then speech to text might be incredibly helpful. They can talk to the computer, and the program will translate what they say into text. Now, some of these programs are not perfect and may misinterpret a word or two. Still, it is a great option for people who want to type anything from simple emails to longer documents or articles.
  • Larger Monitors – Hooking up the computer to a television screen can make the font a lot larger and just make the entire screen easier to read. If someone is having trouble focusing on the tiny screen of a laptop or even a desktop, that problem can be solved with a few cables and a change in input settings to the television.

See, you just have to get a bit creative with things! Just a small amount of assistance and care can help your elderly friend or family member to explore the amazing world of digital technology. If they’re already a big fan of tech, then talking to them about some assistive modifications to make it even easier to use could also be helpful. Digital accessibility for everyone is important, make sure you help make it happen when you can!

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