Digital technology is here to stay but not everyone has the talent for it. Gregg Vanderheiden says there is a difference between digital skill and digital talent. Skill is something you can learn, but talent, like a sporting or musical talent is inherent. So this might explain why some people find websites, smartphones and computers difficult to master.
Vanderheiden explains that low digital affinity is not the same as intelligence. Some very bright people have trouble using digital interfaces. This is like being tone deaf and being unable to sing in tune. Or unable to be athletic because of poor coordination.
Image: Professor Gregg Vanderheiden
Consequently, as the digital world expands into all sections of life, some people will face limitations to their independence in everyday activities. People who rely on digital assistive technologies such as screen readers, and read and write programs are likely to be further challenged by technology.
Making it easier to use computers
Computers and technology have transformed the lives of many people with disability. This is largely due to additional technologies loaded onto their computers and smartphones. However, unlike others, unless they take their computer everywhere with them, they cannot access computers in libraries and at school. That is, unless they have a computer dedicated to them which probably means others can’t use it. Vanderheiden has a solution.
Morphic is an extension to Windows and Mac operating systems to make it easier to use a computer. Morphic is open source software with a great add-on. What if the settings for your home computer were able to follow you around in the Cloud? And what if it gave you confidence you wouldn’t “break” the computer?
“Assistive Technology on Demand” or AToD, is a companion service to Morphic. It allows users to have the assistive technologies they need on any computer at any place, any time. When you log out of the computer, your settings disappear and the computer goes back to the original settings.
Digital equity for AT users
- AT users can use any computer
- People who don’t have a computer can be AT users
- New employees can set up on their first day at work
- If computer fails or is lost, a new one can be set up in no time
- IT departments can save time – all computers can have AT when needed without needing to install anything
With one click Morphic retrieves your assistive settings and when you leave the computer your settings completely disappear. That leaves the computer free for others to use in the library, university, or school. It is also good for people who struggle with technology because their device can be set up specifically for their requirements. This could be something as simple as creating one click to join the family Zoom meeting.
A one page review of Vanderheiden’s keynote from 2020 explains in more detail how it works. At the AAATE 2023 conference, Vanderheiden describes the roll-out to 7000 computers in major universities. AT users now have the ability to access computers in the same way as their peers. This gives them a new level of digital equity so they can better compete and succeed in all aspects of life, work and education.
Tech and older adults
The stereotype of grandchildren helping grandparents with their phone or remote controller is often perpetuated by older people themselves. Skill in using phones and websites depends on the motivations for using them. Younger people can have different interests from older adults meaning they use different apps and software. This doesn’t mean tech and older adults don’t belong together.
“Grandma cannot use her phone because it was not designed for her. Ubiquitous mass-market tools should not present obvious and avoidable hurdles to everyday users.” Robert Schumacher.
The stereotype is not based in evidence, and it might not be the tech that’s the barrier – poor vision or hand dexterity can also cause problems with using phones and computers.
It’s about mental models
According to Schumacher, the main difference between younger and older generations is when their mental models of how things work was formed. He explains how these mental models can widen any gap in understanding in how things work. Every generation has its own mental models of the world.
Schumacher’s article discusses more on this topic and how to remedy the situation. More testing with older adults is essential. Their mental models aren’t the same as the developer’s – what’s intuitive for a seasoned tech user is not intuitive for everyone. However, it doesn’t mean older people are averse to using technology or too “stuck in their ways” to learn.
The title of the article is, Gran Got Tech: Inclusivity and Older Adults, published in the Journal of User Experience.
Mental models and autonomous vehicles
The concept of designing tech from the perspective of mental models is a factor in a research project for autonomous vehicles. As concepts evolve, eventually the need to design in-vehicle interfaces will be minimal with presets for each rider. In the meantime, touchscreens and audio controls will still be needed. These need to be co-designed with users to develop prototypes.
The title of a research paper on this topic is Designing Interaction with Autonomous Vehicles for Older Passengers.