MLA Conference Presentation 2011

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Empowering Older Adults: Research-based Training for Web Information and Access

Presented by Joyce Yukawa and Christine Anning at the Minnesota Library Association 2011 Annual Conference, October 13, 2011, Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, Duluth, Minnesota. Slide presentation

Abstract: Governments, businesses, organizations, and libraries are increasingly providing services on the web. However, older adults - the fastest growing segment of the population - face physical, cognitive, social, and technological barriers that often impede them from accessing information online. With mandates from state, federal, and international organizations to provide accessibility to persons with disabilities while at the same time facing decreasing budgets, how can libraries meet the needs of their older users? In this session, Joyce Yukawa and Christine Anning of St. Catherine University’s MLIS Program share findings from a study on computer and internet uses and needs of older adults and introduce the training initiative that resulted. Students in the MLIS Program, St. Catherine University, will participate in internships and service learning projects to train older adults to use computers and access web information. We will discuss and share resources on these topics: (1) barriers to the online information seeking of older adults, (2) best practices for teaching older adults, (3) low-cost ways of making online information and services web accessible, and (4) government and non-profit accessibility services and resources for older adults. We will also introduce the teaching modules developed to date for possible testing and use by this session's participants.

Who Are Older Adults?

Changing Demographics and Abilities

  • The US population is rapidly aging (US Census Bureau), and the oldest old (85+) are the fastest growing segment of the population (National Institute on Aging, 2006)
  • Older adults face barriers to online information seeking that are physical (impairments of vision, hearing, and motor skills), cognitive (reduced short term memory, difficulty concentrating), social (isolation, lack of awareness of their information needs), and technological (hardware and software not usable or accessible). (University of Wisconsin-Madison, Trace Center, A Brief Introduction to Disabilities)

Computer and Internet Use of the Oldest Old

Recent research on information seeking behavior, computer use, and internet use of the oldest adults (Anning, 2011) found:

  • Desire and interest in using online information services.
  • Overwhelming inhibitions and underutilization of the Internet because of lack of knowledge and frustration with basic computer operations, as these interviewees noted:
  • "I stumble frequently and after a while, I just quit."
  • "That's the biggest thing is fear; fear you're going to ruin something for somebody else. I don't like to get scolded, even at 80."
  • Training and assistance would help the oldest old use computers to stay socially and intellectually engaged.

Empowering Older Adults

Empower through Teaching

Service Learning in the MLIS Program

  • Special capstone course for service learning with older adults.
  • The capstone course is a new required course to be taken by students at the end of their MLIS career. Teams of 3-5 students will seek out a sponsoring organization and design, implement, and assess a service-learning project, culminating in a public presentation and written report.
  • Special capstone focused on computer and internet training for older adults will address this as a social justice issue and provide a support structure of background resources, ongoing relationships with volunteer organizations, teaching modules, and guides to service learning and project management. Final products will include an evidence-based assessment of the work accomplished and an assessment of needs of the organization that could be addressed by future teams.
  • Internships

Empower through Web Usability and Accessibility

Low-Cost Accessibility Solutions

  • Use the accessibility features of your computer operating system: Microsoft Accessibility, Apple Accessibility, and Linux Accessibility. Windows 7 and Mac OS X provide built-in software for screen reader, speech recognition, screen magnification, and keyboard shortcuts. In addition, Mac OS X includes Braille support, high contrast video, talking calculator and clock, closed captioning, handwriting recognition, trackpad gestures, slow keys, and more.
  • Use the accessibility features of your browser: Firefox, Internet Explorer 8, Chrome, and Safari (Apple provides integrated accessibility features in its OS that can be used in Safari). Examples of browser accessibility features include page zoom; changing fonts, sizes, and colors; preventing images from loading; restricting JavaScript behavior; moving around text with keyboard; screen reader; and converting articles to an easy-to-read page without distractions (e.g., Safari reader or the Readability plug-in for Firefox).
  • Consider free, low-cost, and open source software (e.g., Portable App Directory and WinBraille).
  • Consider device exchanges of used technology (e.g., Minnesota STAR Technology Exchange).
  • Use accessibility features when implementing an open source content management system (e.g., Drupal Accessibility and WordPress Accessibility).

Minnesota Accessibility Services and Resources

  • EquipALife (formerly Assistive Technology of Minnesota) is a nonprofit organization that provides a statewide, individual consumer-focused system of assistive technology for Minnesotans of all ages with disabilities. Programs include the Micro Loan Program of low-interest loans to acquire assistive technology; Telework Program of low-Interest loans to develop, expand or maintain businesses operated from the home; Assistive Technology Outreach Program of consultation for home and workplace modification; and the AgrAbility Project that assists farmers with disabilities and their families with assistive technology and farm modifications. Assistive Technology and Modifications Toolkit (PDF) lists products, services and organizations.
  • Minnesota Office of Enterprise Technology. Accessibility Standards and Accessibility Initiative (2009). "The goal of the Accessibility Standard is to improve the accessibility and usability of information technology products and services for all government end-users in the State of Minnesota. This standard is in response to the accessible technology bill that was signed into law on May 22, 2009, that requires the State to adopt Section 508 standards and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0) for developing and maintaining accessible statewide information and telecommunications technology systems and services."
  • Minnesota Department of Administration. Minnesota STAR Program. "STAR's mission is to help all Minnesotans with disabilities gain access to and acquire the assistive technology they need to live, learn, work and play ... federally funded by the Rehabilitation Services Administration in accordance with the Assistive Technology Act of 1998, as amended (P.L. 108-364)." STAR provides device demonstrations, device loans, device exchanges, and assistive technology reutilization. Directory of Funding and Assistive Technology Resources in Minnesota - Seventh Edition (2008-2009).
  • Minnesota State Council On Disability MSCOD) "is an agency that collaborates, advocates, advises and provides information to expand opportunities, increase the quality of life and empower all persons with disabilities. Services are provided to individuals with disabilities and their families, the Governor and Legislature, government and private agencies, employers and the general public." Services include review of disability issues, programs and policies; promote coordinated, collaborative, interagency efforts; provide information and referral regarding disability issues, services and policies; collect, conduct and make disability related research and statistics available; and advocate for policies and programs that promote the quality of life for people with disabilities. Recent report: Assistive technology in Minnesota: 2008 status report.
  • PACER Center. "The mission of PACER Center (Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights) is to expand opportunities and enhance the quality of life of children and young adults with disabilities and their families. Founded in 1977, PACER is staffed primarily by parents of children with disabilities and works in coalition with 18 disability organizations." Its Simon Technology Center has a lending library of assistive technology. PACER Center provides information, workshops, webinars, and other resources such as Understanding Assistive Technology (YouTube, 2:32) and Understand Assistive Technology Loan Libraries (YouTube, 3:25).
  • VSA Minnesota, The State Organization on Arts and Disability. "VSA Minnesota's mission is to create a community where people with disabilities can learn through, participate in and access the arts ... an affiliate of VSA in Washington D.C." Web access information.
  • Infoeyes. "InfoEyes is a question and answer service for people with a visual impairment or other print limitation." Multi-state including Minnesota.
  • Minnesota Historical Society. (Dec. 2010). Web Content Accessibility White Paper. "This white paper summarizes Internet accessibility standards and regulations that apply to state government entities, discusses the rationale for making improvements, and identifies resources that address ways to implement accessible web design."

References and More Information