Businessweek recently ran a story about a side of Microsoft we do not hear nearly enough about. Apparently they have been working with various cities to bring computers to senior citizens. With the dependence on computers today, it has become tough for homebound elderly people to remain connected to society without them. Microsoft is pushing ways to make it easy for these people to have computers, internet connections and email without it being overwhelming and impossible.
New York City is piloting this program in Queens, but Microsoft has already successfully been running it in Miami. What is really incredible is that this program is not just “here’s a Windows 7 PC, have fun.” This program is taking into account the special issues that come with working with the elderly, such as eyesight problems and unfamiliarity with computer navigation.
At no cost to themselves, participants received new in-home desktop computers running the Windows 7 operating system, touch-screen monitors, and broadband Internet service worth about $20,000, not including support, social-work services, and some software. A small video camera and microphone lets seniors use Skype and video-chat applications to keep in touch with family and friends. Others use the computer to attend religious services virtually or watch videos via YouTube.
At the Flushing senior center, Microsoft also placed two-way video cameras and monitors that let homebound seniors remotely take part in activities such as tai chi and painting, while interacting with instructors and classmates at the center. For seniors with vision, hearing, and physical disabilities, Microsoft adapted the virtual centers with assistive technologies and devices.
Ethel Warfield, 81, has failing vision and uses BigKeys, a keyboard featuring 1-inch keys. She found the standard QWERTY keyboard too confusing, so Microsoft brought her an enlarged ABC keyboard, which she finds more logical and easier to see. Warfield also uses Magnifier, a new feature in Windows 7 that enlarge portions of the computer screen as a magnifying glass might. Sometimes she uses a screen reader that reads text aloud. “I’m amazed at the technology,” Warfield says. “It has totally changed my life.”
I have talked many times before about seniors and technology. While my grandmother had me to help her with a computer, there are millions of seniors who don’t. This is about more than just being connected, though. Having access to computers and the internet means the opportunity to play games designed to improve mental acuity, to learn new ways to stay physically fit, as well as have that emotional/social connection to others.
And the fact that Microsoft is out there working to help people connect like that is awesome. It’s great when we can use gadgets and gizmos for our own entertainment, but it’s really wonderful to see them be adapted for accessibility, and to see a tech company reach out across age divisions to connect everyone.
Now all we need is a Facebook group for all these newly connected senior citizens!