ASSISTING PLAYFUL COMMUNICATIONS FOR SENIORS TO PROMOTE INCLUSION IN THE DIGITAL AGE
Computing Department, Lancaster University
An increasing concern with modern society is that the rise in technology has empowered and supported those people who have been able to take advantage of the available technologies, whilst leaving the remainder technologically alienated and isolated (See Richard Adler -
http://www.seniornet.org/php/default.php?PageID=6694). One group for whom this is certainly a
possibility is older adults. This paper reports on the work being undertaken at Computing Department at
THE PROBLEM IDENTIFICATION
The Department of Computing is renowned for having a multidisciplinary staff membership consisting of computer experts and social scientists. This multidisciplinary mix has proven extremely successful in a number of software developments and has recently been focused on developing assistive technology and ‘smart homes’ for senior and disabled people as well as CATCH- a Compendium of Assistive Technology Checklists for the Home, for professionals to determine technology requirements for supporting independence in the home (www.smartthinking.ukideas.com/CATCH.html).
The social component of the team was sent to undertake ethnographic field studies with seniors in their own homes. A number of new methods were piloted and adapted to achieve this task.
social scientists’ have worked with a many older adults throughout the
participants explained this isolation was due to family and friends not
visiting or having passed away. Many of the older adults found that at weekends
they could be alone all weekend. On further investigation expanded such
that some older people could spend up to a week without seeing another person
socially. Many participants had circumnavigated this by employing people to
come in to their homes and clean or do other jobs, which provides some level of
company at a price, but many were still chronically lonely.
DERIVING OUR SOLUTION
There was no obvious technology solution to preventing or alleviating isolation. Over many months of work with the older participants, it was agreed that some form of computer system that would illustrate when people were available to be contacted was required. The system should show who was on the network but there should be no obligation on the user to make contact if they did not want to.
we found in the fieldwork that many seniors were reluctant to make contact even
with neighbors as they did not wish to cause bother them and did not wish for
visitors themselves as this meant a lot of preparation beforehand. Communications,
therefore, had to be informal, and not require the users to enter into more disclosure
than they were happy to. For this reason cameras were ruled out as the seniors
did not want to be seen by others although they would like to see the other
Further discussions provide the final details such that a ‘slate tablet’ computer was considered to be the best solution as it proves to be light, portable, requiring no additional buttons/keyboards and a has screen large enough for the participants to see the program properly. As traditional software is not overly user friendly it was decided that the Tablet would have its own software platform to sit on top of Windows XP, which would use the core features of Windows without allowing the users to interact with them.
The platform would enable almost immediate synchronous communication between the parties on the network. The software platform was developed to have a welcome screen called the Chooser, which showed who was logged on to the networked system and allowed users to post pictures and comments of themselves to entice communications with other users.
Chooser also has a series of task buttons (the amount dependant on what
programs are loaded). If a person wishes to instigate ‘chatting’ with another
user they are required to click on the person’s active area and click on the
‘CHAT’ button using a pen-like stylus. This sends a message to the chosen party
inviting them for a chat and giving them the option of accepting or rejecting
the chat invitation. It also has a ‘time-out’ option for when the user is not actually
available or does not respond in a timely fashion, so the user is not kept
hanging on indefinitely waiting for a reply. If the chat is accepted then
the two parties are able to write and draw whilst the other person can view and
interact with the writing and drawing.
There are many other applications that we are developing for the platform including email / Internet access and photograph sharing options, but I turn to consider the development of a games application.
As an icebreaker and a common shared experience games can support a means of obviating isolation.
It is not required that one needs to know or like a person to play a virtual game with them and get enormous pleasure from doing so. Through consultations with the seniors in our participant’s group we were able to isolate some common elements of a potential game. The seniors enjoyed the connectivity of the Tablet computers and the synchronous writing and drawing functions. Whilst waiting for the other user with whom they are communicating to respond to a message the seniors would try to second guess what was about to be written or drawn. They contest the need to be pinned down to the rules of certain games, yet wanted to play cards with each other. There also proved to be little commonality between their knowledge of games and rules. They also wanted to chat with each other informally, sharing stories
and discussing news. We therefore used Skype (www.skype.com) to enable multiple voice transfers across the network.
The user is automatically logged into their Skype account which identifies them to other users and other computers on the network. The Tablet's have built in microphones and internal speakers although it is envisaged alternative input/output devices will be required.
games platform allows the users to play any card game that they wish as it has
no rules embedded in the software, it therefore requires the seniors to discuss
and decide on the appropriate rules. Should confusions or accusations of
incorrect play be voiced, it is down to the seniors to settle the dispute themselves
and decide the appropriate way to play.
It is difficult to draw firm conclusions at this time, although we know the system works and that older people in the
This work was partially funded in the