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Access to eBusiness and eWork by Disabled and Elderly People

Dr John Gill
Chief Scientist, Royal National Institute for the Blind, 224 Great Portland Street, London W1N 6AA
Tel +44 20 7391 2371, fax +44 20 7388 7747, Email, Web


The introduction of new technology offers exciting possibilities for making systems accessible to disabled and elderly people.  Even a simple change from magnetic stripe to smart cards gives the possibility of storing the user's preferred interface on the card; for instance, the user might want larger characters on the screen of a cash dispenser.

The introduction of digital television has made it possible to use much more legible typefaces for teletext, and interactive television will make home shopping and home banking available to many people who have difficulty in getting to shops or banks.

Older people are often reluctant to use credit cards for electronic purchases, but are much happier with the use of electronic purses for such transactions because they know the limit of their liability if fraud were to occur.

The role of standardisation has been very different for telecommunications, broadcasting and computing.  Historically telecommunications has had a very rigorous system for developing international standards to ensure that one can communicate by voice across the globe. However future telecommunication systems are unlikely to use the same process, as can be seen with UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) where only the most basic communication protocols are subject to formal standards with all other aspects being left to industry consensus.  In broadcasting there is a standardisation process but it is handled by groups made up from representatives from industry.  The computing industry has strongly resisted standardisation preferring to leave it to industry consensus (which often means that the dominant commercial player determines the standards).

Therefore convergence is not just bringing together three types of technologies, but also a clash of cultures.  The current indications are that the needs of disabled people are a long way down the priority list for commercial organisations developing new systems and services.

It would be unwise to ignore the large community of disabled and elderly people for purely commercial reasons, but anti-discrimination legislation will make it increasingly unwise to produce new systems or services without considering their needs from the outset.


Good design for disabled people is often good design for everyone.


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