2002 Conference Proceedings

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LESSONS FROM ELDERLY RESIDENTIAL CARE USING ASSISTED TECHNOLOGY DESIGNED FOR COMPUTERS

Author/Presenter:
Ileene Chernoff, Senior Surfing
47 Parry Road
Stamford, CT 06907
Telephone: (203) 940-1188
Fax: (203) 329-0151
Email: seniorsurfing@prodigy.net

Assistive technology designed for the personal computer can be most effective in helping impaired computer users browse the World Wide Web.

There are two major thoughts that allow this to happen. First, there is a wide range of appropriate products available today that help a potential computer user to compensate for their own individual impairment.

Second, when a person is accessing the Internet with adaptive equipment, their own disability is not visible allowing the integration of impaired users into the virtual world without any stigma attached to their individual situation.

As can be true with many of the assistive devices available and used today, acceptance and integration into one's life can be difficult. The hearing aid is one of the devices that is thought of often. Many people have purchased them, but have trouble getting use to them, or do not like the stigma attached when wearing them, so they do not. They may indeed miss many experiences of the life around them.

The computer should not be used as a way to hide a disability that a user may have, rather used as a tool to help integrate assistive devices into their daily lives. The assistive technology products do not seem to be viewed in the same light as a hearing aid or wheelchair. Their acceptance and use is almost as commonly accepted as eyeglasses are in today's society. As technology is the wave of the future, this seems to be the motivation that helps people adapt to this technology more easily.

My experiences implementing computer labs in elderly residential care facilities using assisted devices illustrate the benefits and unlimited opportunities that exist on the Internet. A few examples are described below.

One 87-year-old woman who is currently living in a nursing facility was able to take a community college course online in a subject area of interest to her. Mostly confined to a wheelchair, she was able to attend class weekly, join a study group, and have her self esteem boosted when she received an A- as a final grade. She was able to use a magnifier set up with the machine so she could view the screen more effectively.

Adult day care residents, many of whom have Alzheimer's, have attended my weekly computer class, where each week we explore a different country. Stories are swapped about their time vacationing or traveling to these different places. This gives the residents the chance to travel back in time to another place, that they remember and talk about it. Each hour spent browsing far away places on the web serves as one hour less of their day filled with the frustration of trying to remember the here and now. These classes are conducted with a large screen LCD projector; each resident is assigned homework requiring them to select a new place to travel.

Large mice, large track balls, and large keyboards, color-coded labels and programmable keys have been developed to help users compensate for their limited dexterity and learn to use the computer with relative ease.

Another elderly resident with Parkinson's disease has used a joystick programmed like a mouse to surf away his physical barriers. He was able to get back in contact with his brothers in his fraternity, and enjoyed many hours of emailing with them.

A deaf resident was able to email his best friend in Texas, and his sister in Connecticut. He shared his excitement and photos while reducing his cost of a TTY telephone.

Email lets users from all over the world communicate and share experiences of life. The elderly can see their grandkids grow right before their eyes, or hear their voices like they are right in the same room with them.

Other elderly residents whose favorite pastime is card playing have used the web to lead them into virtual bridge, pinochle and blackjack games, with other users from around the corner to around the world.

When voice recognition software becomes perfected for the elderly voice, I foresee many more users being able to reap the benefits on this online world as well.

Combining these effective adaptive devices with a mentor can help the elderly to live more fulfilled and independent lives. They are able to read the newspaper online, although they can no longer hold or turn the pages.

When riding the technology wave, users can truly be in two places at once when they are not able to go outside. They can visit other countries, pursue their hobbies, as well as meet and communicate with new friends. Medical supplies can be purchased online, and delivered to their doorstep. With increasing numbers of telemedicine sites and medical professionals becoming virtual, doctors appointments can be made, some health information and daily progress can be posted and transmitted securely, all with touch of a key.

In conclusion, this paper can serve as an introduction to a few of the major assistive devices designed for computer users; they are the ones I found to be most effective with the elderly. These assistive devices have been paramount in allowing individuals to go on living productive lives, where the learning never stops and memories are created to last a lifetime.

( 2001 Senior Surfing - Ileene Chernoff. All Rights Reserved.


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