Making the Internet more Accessible for Canadian Seniors

Americas, Assistive Technology, December 19 2017

Making the Internet more Accessible for Canadian Seniors

Cosmin Muntaneaufrom the University of Toronto aims to help Canada’s senior citizens feel more confident and safer when using the internet. Seniors are terrified of falling victim to scams which prevent them from accessing the variety of enhanced services from trusted providers including banks and healthcare services which forms a vital part of maintaining their independence.

As an assistant professor with the University’s Mississauga Institution for Communication, Culture, Information and Technology department, Muntanea examined the barriers faced by seniors in terms of adopting online technology, hoping to make the technologies more accessible. As the co-director of the Technologies for Aging Gracefully lab (TAG lab) on the downtown Toronto campus, he is conducting ongoing investigations on how senior adults can access and use technology and how these technologies may be adapted to better suit their needs.

Picture of hands typing on a laptop

Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

Assessing how seniors use the internet

Funding was recently acquired to study how seniors are accessing and using web services as well as identifying what barriers they face in getting online to manage their health and financial services.  It was discovered that seniors are reluctant to participate in online activities due to a fear that their online safety will be compromised.  Seniors in Canada and the USA are very active in terms of online activity but still suffer from a digital divide. They may have internet access, use it periodically but they do not take full advantage of everything that is available to them. Apart from accessing helpful services, the internet can also prove to be a useful tool in preventing the onset of dementia, offering a wide scope of brain-training games and activities for the aging mind.

Seniors and their fear of internet safety

Current research being conducted into the use of internet technology by seniors does not cover safety perceptions. Statistics indicate that as much as $10-million is lost annually by Canadian seniors in a variety of online scams. While this is in proportion to the general Canadian population, the elderly view themselves as targets, leading to marginalized internet activity.

As more personal services are managed online, it becomes increasingly important to ensure that cyberspace is safe and accessible to seniors. The focus is being placed on medical information, personal information and a variety of online transactions with researchers and developers looking at what authentication methods would be perceived as the most reliable in terms of accessing these services. Options include traditional log-in screens, third-party providers, and biometric authentication.  Munteanu is hopeful that the findings from the various studies will result in safer, more effective ways to get and keep, seniors online and that if the internet can be made more accessible to seniors, it can be made more accessible to everyone.

As seniors are expecting to live longer due to increased life expectancy, the need for accessible technology becomes increasingly important. By empowering the older members of the community to become internet savvy we not only enhance their quality of life but provide them with an increased sense of self-worth as well.

Written by Jane Sandwood, a professional freelance writer and editor.

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