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Tomorrow's elders with disabilities: what the wireless industry needs to know

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Since the baby boom decades of 1946-1964, decreasing fertility rates and increasing lifespans have led to worldwide growth of the elder population. This growth is already challenging healthcare systems, family structures, and national economies. The growing population of elders is also focusing attention on the changes in mental, physical, and sensory abilities that come to everyone who lives long enough and to those with chronic disabilities due to accident or illness. This new focus is reshaping traditional perceptions of who the world is designed for and the potential of design to meet the challenges of an aging population. As the baby boom generation enters its elder years, it is adding urgency to these challenges. Besides its formidable size, the baby boomer generation promises to be different from previous elder generations in abilities, behaviours, expectations, and available resources. Baby boomers have learned to expect great things from design and technology, especially wireless information and communication technologies, as these technologies have become part of the fabric of everyday life. Baby boomers with and without disabilities will bring more experience with wireless technologies to their elder years, having used them for both business and personal reasons. Will they continue to rely on these technologies in their elder years? Will their experience offset additional mental, physical, and sensory limitations they will develop as they age? Will wireless technologies facilitate independent living, extend careers, and improve leisure options? Or will the increasing complexity of wireless technologies overwhelm tomorrow's elders and limit the potential of these technologies to enhance their quality of life? This paper explores the emerging differences between the elders of today and the even-larger population of tomorrow's elders, and how disabilities are likely to shape their behaviours as wireless users. Correlations are presented between worldwide trends and findings of consumer research (largely internet-based) among a sizable population of Americans with disabilities. This paper will point out key factors for the wireless industry to consider in serving this large and growing customer population. By understanding and preparing for the emerging elder generation, the wireless industry can position its products and services to be instrumental in meeting the challenges this generation will face as emerging elders. The intent is that wireless technologies will realise the potential to address the most critical issues facing tomorrow's elders with disabilities and in turn enhance independence for all.
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Keywords: adaptive design; ethnography; human factors; industrial design; wireless

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Rehabilitation Engineering Research and Training Center for Wireless Technologies, Shepherd Center, Atlanta, GA, USA

Publication date: 01 April 2010

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