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Education and Engagement for inclusive Design and Development of Digital Systems and Services

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - E2D3S2 (Education and Engagement for inclusive Design and Development of Digital Systems and Services)

Reporting period: 2016-10-01 to 2018-09-30

The starting point for the “Education and Engagement for inclusive Design and Development of Digital Systems and Services” (E2D3S2) project was that older people are often unable to use interactive digital systems and services, such as e-government and e-shopping, or technologies that might enhance their interpersonal communication, such as social media. This is a concern because older people are a growing percentage of the population in most European member states, reaching as much as 20% of the population currently. Moreover, being able to use these technologies facilitates interaction with modern government and commercially based services that are increasingly being deployed online as the standard means of interaction.
On a socio-economic level, being able to use these services can provide substantial economic benefits to society by helping older people remain active members of society; stay productive in the workplace; and live independently for longer. This can provide savings to currently overburdened social security, health and other public services. In addition, access to digital systems and services enables older people to take advantage of many innovative systems that can help them maintain and improve their quality of life. Finally, on a wider societal scale, enabling access and not side-lining (or “designing-out”) older people can help preserve the human resources capital represented by their individual and combined experiences, so that it can be communicated to younger generations.

The E2D3S2 project approach was assist designers and developers of digital services and systems, by giving them the necessary tools to understand and learn how to create more inclusive systems and services that would be designed with the inclusion of older people in mind, in the form of guidelines embedded in educational material. This approach is beneficial as well for designers and developers, as it offers them new competencies, necessary for making systems and services accessible to all across the territories of the European Union. To accomplish this approach, guidelines that are evidence-based needed to be created, evaluated, and put into a form that enhances take-up.

Thus, the project had two main objectives:
• to create highly usable evidence-based guidelines to support the design and development systems and services for all, but especially older users
• to embed these guidelines in a short online course. Such short courses have been shown to be attractive to professionals who seek to acquire new knowledge and skill sets to make them more valuable to their employers, or to find new employment opportunities
An extensive literature review on older people and technologies, in terms of their attitudes towards, and use of, technologies; on methods of working with older people; and on empirical results and guidelines for usability and accessibility has been undertaken. Other results concerned the distinguishing of areas of particular interest to older people, among them the use of self-service technologies, and the deployment of assistive robotic technologies.

From the review on older people and technologies a number of useful distinctions were developed. One of these concerned the issues of usability, usefulness and control. The review covered both mainstream technologies (such as e-government services) and assistive technologies that are specifically designed for older people and their circumstances, for instance, many types of monitoring technologies and services. In many cases these technologies are not used by the older people themselves, but by their carers, whether professionals or family members. However, our own research with older people, showed widespread interest on the part of older people of being in control of these types of technologies, and in particular, all sorts of ‘intelligent support technologies’, such as robotic devices that could help older people with activities of daily living. This distinction is important for many design and development decisions.

The guidelines that were developed made use of these findings, and also aligned to existing international and European standards regarding the accessibility of ICT products and services. In this way they can interoperate with the regular revisions of these standards.

For designers and developers to fully understand the extent of their decisions, the guidelines are embedded within learning materials that give background and context, such as user stories that help overturn common stereotypes of older people and their attitudes to, and uptake and/or use of, technologies. An example in point, is that our results show that older people are often very motivated to use technologies, particularly those that enable communication and social interaction. This often corresponds to their desires for keeping in touch with family and friends and being able to offer and exchange advice and experiences, especially with younger and less experienced interlocutors. With technologies for more transactional uses, such as self-service technologies in retail and in travel, older people are interested in learning these, to benefit from their advantages but most of all, in being self-sufficient. Finally, the importance of consulting with representative user groups throughout the design and development process is also emphasised, as no set of guidelines is sufficient on its own to create satisfactory systems and services.

The results of the project have been widely disseminated via presentations in academic conferences, publications in proceedings and chapters in handbooks, and journal articles are in preparation. More specifically, a larger number of papers than originally foreseen were published in peer reviewed conferences and also two book chapters were produced. The conferences and publication outlets were strategically chosen to target different stakeholder groups, such as researchers in robotics and those working in self-service technologies. This was in addition to conferences and publication outlets that are dedicated to research on the accessibility and usability of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT).

With regard to outreach, there was dissemination of results to groups outside of academia, for instance to policy makers, broadcasting and performing arts community, and interested public, as well as consumer groups and standardisers. Finally, the guidelines and educational materials were tested and used with designers and developers in a variety of contexts.
As with most work of this type, a number of interesting research questions emerged, some of which have become themes for further work by the researcher beyond the lifetime of the MSCA project.
The guidelines are embedded within learning materials that go beyond being sets of specifications. Instead they emphasise functional requirements and outcomes, and not dictate the way these outcomes should be achieved. In this way, designers and developers can enjoy creative freedom, helping them to achieve innovative breakthroughs in both technological developments but also in the appropriateness of product and services, providing not just older people, but everyone, with useful and usable designs, encouraging inclusion in society for all, and boosting the European economy in line with new European Accessibility Act.