Other Free Encyclopedias » Medicine Encyclopedia » Aging Healthy - Part 2 » Human Factors - Human Factors Engineering, Mobility And Transportation, Living Environments, Computer Technology And Information Systems, Conclusion

Human Factors - Computer Technology And Information Systems

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Computer and information technologies offer the potential of enhancing the independence and improving the quality of life of older people. These technologies make it possible to bank and shop at home, maintain contact with family and friends, access physicians and health care providers, access information about community resources, and participate in educational programs. Despite popular stereotypes, older people are interested and willing to use new technologies. However, because of lack of familiarity with technology, lack of training, and difficult-to-use systems, technology is often a source of frustration for many older adults and the potential benefits of technology for this population are not realized. This is another area where human factors engineers can, and do, make significant contributions.

An excellent example relates to automatic teller machines (ATMs). A recent survey showed that older people use ATMs far less frequently than younger people because they don't feel safe using them, don't feel they need them, or do not know how to use them. They also indicated that they would be more likely to use ATMs if someone showed them how to use them. Researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology have discovered effective ways of teaching older people to use ATMs. Specifically they found providing older adults with an on-line tutorial that provided hands-on interactive experience with an ATM system and practice on actual ATM tasks improved their ability to perform ATM transactions. They also discovered that simple changes in system design, such as improving the visual display and the content of on-screen messages, greatly enhance the ability of older people to successfully use ATMs. It is also important to understand that these types of design changes are usually effective for people of all ages.

Several researchers (e.g., Charness, 2000; Walker, Philbin, and Fisk, 1997; Smith, Sharit, and Czaja, 1999) have shown that current input devices, such as the computer mouse, also make it difficult for older adults to use technology. These problems are related to age changes in movement control. Tasks such as double-clicking or cursor positioning are particularly difficult for older people. Some of these difficulties can be eliminated by making the interface easier by changing the gain and acceleration of the mouse, or by switching to alternative input devices such as a light pen. Current findings also suggest that voice control may be beneficial for older people, as it minimizes the need for use of the hands and fingers.

Software that is complex also causes problems for older people. For example, many older people are interested in learning to use the World Wide Web (WWW), but find it difficult because of poor interface design. Strategies such as changing the structure of the network and menu characteristics so it is easier for people to find information have been found to be effective for both younger and older people. Other techniques, such as providing on-screen information regarding search history ("where one is and where one has been") also aid performance, as the demands on memory are reduced.

The topic of aging and information technology is becoming increasingly important, as the use of technology is permeating most aspects of society. The challenge for human factors engineers is to help insure that technology is useful to, and useable by, older adults. Much needs to be done in the area of training and interface design in order to meet this challenge.

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