Elsewhere should be included in the design of new technology

Ageism is the stereotypes (what we think), prejudices (how we feel) and discrimination (our behaviors) we may hold about others or ourselves based on age.

Age discrimination is a unique form of discrimination because of its pervasiveness – it is often referred to as the last acceptable form of discrimination. Ageism is often intertwined with other forms of discrimination, including sexism, racism, and abilityism.

Age discrimination has significant implications in the development and distribution of technology. It affects not only whether older people adopt new technologies, but also how new technologies are developed and marketed.

In recent years there has been growing awareness of how digital technologies and platforms discriminate on the basis of gender, race and class. However, age discrimination has received less attention.

Artificial intelligence, healthcare technology, and monitoring and surveillance systems are increasingly being integrated into the lives of older adults.

Technology plays a vital role in everyday life, and it is important to investigate how older people’s use of technology is influenced by ageism, self-perception and identity.

As a social gerontologist (Stephanie Hatzifilalithis) interested in ageism, my question is threefold:

• Why don’t we do our best to create technology based on Universal Design principles?

• How does ageism affect technology and vice versa?

• Why don’t we listen to older people when designing technology for their use?

people like us

In a 2017 episode of the Netflix show “Grace and Frankie,” the main characters (played by Jane Fonda, now 84, and Lily Tomlin, 83) decide to revolutionize the vibrator market, “for people like us. People create products”. After Grace develops an arthritis attack from her sex toy use, friends design a vibrator that adheres to Universal Design principles. Grace and Frankie then try to market their product, but with no luck.

Older adults are increasingly using technology in their daily lives.  (Anna Schweitz/Pexels)

Anna Schweitz/Pexels

Older adults are increasingly using technology in their daily lives.

While Grace and Frankie are forces to be reckoned with, they are fictional characters. In the real world, the largest tech companies are overwhelmingly employed by young, white men.

In my postdoctoral work with social and critical gerontologist Nicole Dalmer, we examined how ageism arises and is reproduced in the context of experience and design. We observe how older adults think, talk and experience technology (and its associated data) that plays a role in their lives.

We are also interested in how the potential impact of ageism is understood by those involved in technology design and development.

Engagement elsewhere

Our work is part of a movement that increasingly values ​​and appreciates human-centred, participatory and visual approaches to design and research. Other researchers have proposed a framework to guide the co-design of technology with older adults.

Collaborative design is a well-established design methodology that has not been widely used in older adults. An important aspect of our current research is ensuring that our programs are informed, guided and influenced by older adults, and that the program’s outcomes are meaningfully aligned with their needs, experiences and expertise.

By focusing on designers and older end users, we hope our research will highlight best practices in the development of technologies that support independent living and enhance social engagement in later life in meaningful ways.

This would not only help avoid costly barriers to technology adoption, but also help mitigate the growing challenges of technology-related discrimination, exclusion and inclusion that explicitly and implicitly affect and shape aging experience.

Researchers, designers, and technology developers need to take the initiative and take the time to think about personal biases associated with age-based stereotypes in order to design technology with older adults.

This article is republished under a Creative Commons license from The Conversation, an independent, nonprofit source of news, analysis, and commentary from academic experts.

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