Technophobic seniors: include them or boot them out?


Was just sent this link to an article about a phone designed for baby boomers.

I read the article and the intention seems very noble – designing a phone for technophobes (and possibly the infirm?) – the whole experience of using the phone seems to have been considered with full support from an online interface as well as a call centre. Sounds excellent.

Instead of icons or menus, the phone presents features as a series of simple questions, which the user answers with the bold YES and NO buttons on the handset: Do you want to check your voicemail? If not, press NO and the phone will ask if you want to look at your phone list instead. Jitterbug offers two models: one with a typical telephone keypad (albeit with larger, brighter buttons than most mobile phones) and one with no keypad at all. The Jitterbug OneTouch has just three buttons: one to dial 911, one to reach a Jitterbug operator, and one that can be programmed with a number chosen by the user.

Leisa wondered what I thought of it. I have a couple of thoughts (heavily caveated by the fact that I haven’t seen the actual phone and, more importantly, haven’t been able to show it to any of its target users.):

  1. Accessibility score? The phone is designed to exclude ambient noise and therefore improve things for the hard of hearing. It appears infinitely easy to use and even gives a good old-fasioned dial tone to indicate signal levels rather than the signal level indicators we are used to seeing on phones; nice big clear buttons and on screen text and it all seems to have been very carefully considered. I know a few 80-year-olds for whom this would be not only something they could use but also provide a vital life-line. Great.
  2. Inclusivity fail? It is my understanding that baby-boomers are about 60. My mother (I know, but she is handy for this sort of stuff) is a baby-boomer. She is a technophobe in as much as she is afraid of ‘breaking’ things. But she wants to communicate with her children, her friends, her pupils, why would I exclude her from the wonderful world of text-messaging? Even my 75-year-old Croatian aunt can send a text message; for starters, it’s cheap! Also, I really enjoy – no really I do – all those photos mother takes of her new fence (and similar) that she can then show me or send me from her phone. I live in the 21st century, I want my mother to be able to join in!

Did I get too hung up on the use of the phrase ‘baby-boomer’ in the title? I’m sorry. But I reckon (this time based on research I was involved with) that they are the care-givers that the article mentions (who will inevitably have to set up the phone) and the potential users are their parents.

I will be sending the article on to my mother. Would anyone else mind doing the same so we can have some less caveated opinion here?