Finding Connectivity Relevance for Seniors and the Disabled

By Amanda Kowalik   January 21, 2015

Recently, the National Telecommunications and Information Association (NTIA) released its annual report, “Exploring the Digital Nation: Embracing the Mobile Internet.” Detailing the state of connectivity in the US, the report featured a few statistics in particular that jumped out at us:

  • Those 65 and over continued to lag behind other age brackets, with only 57 percent reporting home Internet use (as compared to 82 percent of those age 25-44 and 79 percent of 45-64-year-olds)
  • Disabled householders were 27 percentage points less likely to have the Internet at home than their non-disabled counterparts at 52 percent and 79 percent, respectively

Put simply, people go online if they know they’ll find something relevant to their lives and based on these statistics, relevance for seniors and the disabled is still lagging. When an unconnected community becomes connected, that relevance must exist to a great degree in order for Internet access to take root and make a difference. However, this seeming lack of relevance may be due to underexposure to pertinent online applications, as noted in the National Broadband Plan’s chapter on adoption and utilization: “Experience has shown that older Americans will adopt broadband at home when exposed to its immediate, practical benefits and after receiving focused, hands-on training.”

The statistics above reminded me of an “immediate, practical benefit” I previously blogged about: iCanConnect, a pilot program that “provides low-income deaf-blind individuals with the most up-to-date telecommunications devices for free and special training to use them,” according to the Associated Press. iCanConnect is just one of a few applications geared toward disabled individuals and seniors developing age-related sensory or physical impairments:

  • BIG Launcher: Replaces the interface of any Android device with a simpler, enlarged design to increase readability. The app includes a prominent SOS button to alert a loved one by SMS or phone that help is needed.
  • Proloquo2Go: For those who cannot speak, this symbol-supported communication app provides a grid of icons– a stop sign for “stop”, an X for “not” – to help the verbally impaired communicate. There are a number of accent options, both male and female, such that users can choose the voice that most suits their natural tone.
  • MedCoach: Reminds people to take their vitamins and medications as prescribed by their doctors, and can even connect to users’ pharmacies for refills – something 68 percent of US seniors online consider important, according to an Accenture Research study covered in MobiHealthNews.

And there’s more good news for American seniors seeking improved access to healthcare: members of Congress, medical research institutions and others are all actively pursuing measures to further telemedicine’s reach and capabilities. This application has the power to equalize access to quality healthcare, and we look forward to continuing to enable it through our technology.

These are just a few of the apps and stories we found; there are scores more. As long as companies keep innovating for new core audiences, the gap in connectivity relevance among communities with low Internet adoption rates should decrease, fresh voices and perspectives will make their way online and the experience of using the Internet will be richer for all the connected. In future blog posts, we’ll highlight this collective enrichment through some of our favorite stories of connecting the unconnected.