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Is Tech Inclusive Enough?
The Game of Phones #1: The Case for the Elderly
Many moments stand out to me from my time in medical school but recently, this one came to mind: an unassuming class in the Department of Public Health. It was the first time I came across a concept I had never even thought about: age-friendly cities.
My dulled ears perked up.
The specialist went on to discuss why we should pay attention to making our communities accessible to the elderly and ageing. After all, we’d be there soon enough.
Let’s put this into perspective in our digital age, where we can hardly be involved in today’s urban culture without some digital know-how. Or at least how to open up a WhatsApp chat.
And so one wonders: how are the elderly and aged coping?
The Inclusivity Equation
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), an age-friendly world “enables people of all ages to actively participate in community activities and treats everyone with respect, regardless of their age”. The United Nations estimates a two-fold increase from the current 600 million to 1.2 billion by 2025 in the world’s aged population (above 60 years old).
With this in mind, the concept of age-friendly cities was created by WHO as part of their policy initiatives in the early 2000s.
But while the emphasis is on domains such as social participation, secure neighbourhoods and enhanced mobility, a vital component has often gone ignored: technology.
It’s everywhere we turn.
Moreso, depending on where in the world you live, the penetration of technology varies. For example, in developing parts (I’m from Nigeria, you see), we still use a lot of analogue methods, such as paper and pen documentation, alongside the many inherent drawbacks.
But it’s only a matter of time.
As of January 2022, Nigeria was reported to have more than 109 million internet users - the highest number reported all over Africa.
So how do the aged navigate a world that’s becoming increasingly automated?
Although the stereotypical belief is that the older generation is not as interested in technology as we youngins are, a) that’s not entirely true b) there’s hardly a choice now as it’s been slowly woven into the fabric of our current daily reality.
Research done by Neves et al revealed that the adoption of technology is based on a complex set of factors, ranging from social to usability to digital literacy. It also clearly showed that there are different expectations across generations in communication norms. This simply means one size doesn’t fit all, which goes without saying.
In tandem with the proposed age-friendly system domains, technology is curiously missing and/or downplayed.
But it’s in how ordering a cab (including its subsequent billing) from a mobile app helps with transportation and mobility. Or how location tracking and setting up automatic mobile SOS systems help with feeling more secure — young or old.
It turns out I’m not the only person who will consider this correlation.
Marston and van Hoof wrote a report, critiquing the gaps in the laid-out WHO plans, and proposed a smart age-friendly ecosystem (SAfE) framework. The crucial addition to this framework is its inclusion of technology as an important driver.
Oh, what a wonderful world
To be honest, this goes beyond smart home gadgets and artificial intelligence.
It could be as simple as a phone call, which some of us take for granted as a regular part of life.
One of the things the pandemic lockdowns did was to deepen our reliance on tech, speeding up its adoption. If anyone didn’t see the need to have a connected means, whether it’s via a mobile device or computer, they do now.
Of course, the evolution of/for future generations shouldn't come to a halt because of urban ageing; that’s not the point, at all. Technology will continue to forge on, attempting to solve as many problems as possible.
The moral, perhaps, is that technology should be consciously evolved to consider as many people as possible—whether it’s by age, race, socioeconomic status etc. Particularly for the elderly, it should be and feel intuitive, be clear in its instructions and—let’s not forget—have the option to jumbo-size the font. Amongst other factors.
“According to continuity theory, successful aging is promoted when older people are able to continue familiar activities as a way to maintain self-identity.” — Ng et al
Whether it’s an Apple Watch detecting an abnormal heart rhythm and automatically dialling an emergency contact or Stefanov’s model of health smart homes for especially vulnerable persons, technology is here to stay.
And no sole group should have the monopoly of use.
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