27. September 2013

Getting Seniors onto the Internet

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How do older people get onto the Internet? How do they benefit from it? These questions were answered at a symposium in Bern which wrapped up the Third Age Online (TAO project). The project has shown us that over 60’s can benefit when they seize the opportunities offered by the Internet.

No, the Internet does not make us happier, but it helps us to keep our quality of life, in old age too. Although real relationships are what counts for older people, the Internet allows older, less mobile members of society to maintain these real-world connections. Communication via the Internet enables them to keep in contact with friends and family. This was one of the conclusions of the EU funded research project, Third Age Online (TAO), which saw collaboration from researchers in Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands.

Lowering Technical hurdles
In order to allow older people to be active and happy online two conditions have to be met. First of all they have to see how the Internet benefits them and secondly access shouldn’t be hindered by technical hurdles. For this reason the experts from the innovation foundation “Terz Stiftung” test the user-friendliness of various websites. They give special weight to the legibility of the text and the intuitive use of the website. It is not only older people who benefit from this, “If an Internet site is designed for older people then the young benefit too”, according to Eduard Klein, Software Engineer at the Bern University of Applied Sciences.

It shouldn’t be the case today that seniors are the object of research or special website development according to Andreas Ninck, Professor at the Institute for Corporate and Business Development at the Bern University of Applied Sciences. In his talk he stressed that “To be senior, means to have experience.” and so seniors should ideally be involved right from the beginning in the design of a website.

Helping to stay up-to-date
Seniorweb is one of the organisations whose purpose is to help older citizens make the transition to the internet and get involved in online communities. “The pace of change will occupy us more and more if we want to help seniors stay up-to-date.” explained Anton Schaller, Seniorweb President and ex-Nationalrat. Seniorweb offers its members, amongst other things, support with computer problems and courses in computer use.

But why should senior citizens get involved? For the same reasons that the young do; they get something from it. Although these benefits can be quite abstract as Markus Marquard from the University of Ulm explained, “Seniors don’t just gain a sense of fulfilment they also realise that they are competent.” Since many seniors have a wealth of experience and knowledge which they would like to share with people, they benefit by knowing that what’s in Wikipedia won’t be lost.

The most important: The feeling of success
It doesn’t matter what it is, Wikipedia, computer courses, website testing etc. all these services only work because of people’s voluntary work. And here too “the most important factor is the feeling of success: Our clients are happy.” according to Elisabeth Weinberger from SeniorWeb Holland, which counts on the unpaid work from several thousand members. SeniorWeb Holland’s first priority is their volunteers working conditions and ensuring the smooth running of the work they do.

The TAO closing symposium was attended by 60 specialists representing senior citizen interest groups and the authorities as well as people who are take a special interest in the subject. Project TAO’s research between 2010-13 focused on encouraging older people to contribute to online communities and how older generations can benefit from online activities.

This page is also available in: German

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