The generation that remembers the introduction of television, life before mobile phones, and how to speak without using “like” at the end of every sentence, has hit retirement age.

The world they knew is a lot smaller than it used to be – at least in terms of communications. An aerogram was the way you “talked” to family and friends overseas, and news was received by wireless (the radio), newspaper or newsreel (shown after the cartoon and before the main feature, at the movie theatre.)

Some interesting numbers gleaned from a range of websites recently show that around 30% of seniors in their mid-70s and above are online, jumping to almost 60% of mid-60’s-mid-70’s. As today’s workforce retires, these numbers will increase. A lot of this is due to family members pushing their parents/grandparents to go online so they can stay in touch with them. Email turns into web browsing, web browsing becomes social media, and so on. Sending family photos via email or sharing them on a family website overcomes the tyranny of distance. The majority of computers today have a web camera as standard – either built into the screen or as an included accessory. Not to mention the inbuilt cameras on mobile phones and tablets. Video chat is now commonplace.

No longer is failing sight or hearing a barrier to the use a phone or computer. Many manufacturers are now including features that assist our senior members of society adapt to new technology. The iPad and iPhone for example, provide an “Accessibility” option (Settings, General, Accessibility). From here you can select from

VisionVoiceOver (speaks the items on the screen, Zoom (to magnify the entire screen), Large Text (up to 56 point), White on Black (reverses your text colour), Speak Selection (highlight text – email, article etc and press ‘speak”), Speak Auto-text

Hearing – Mono Audio (iPad), Hearing Aid Mode, Custom Vibrations (assign unique vibration patterns to people in Contacts) (iPhone)

Physical and Motor – Assistive Touch (allows you to use the iPhone/iPad if you have difficulty touching the screen or if you require an adaptive accessory)

It doesn’t end there.

A new software app being developed at Georgia Tech is set to revolutionise texting. BrailleTouch is a free, open-source app that turns your smartphone’s touch screen into a six-key Braille keyboard. Currently available for iPhone and iPad, the developers are working on an Android version now. BrailleTouch won the MobileHCI competition for design in Stockholm 2011, and was recently demonstrated at the Abilities Expo in Atlanta. EveryWare’s TypeInBraille ($US4.99 through iTunes) is another app to consider.

Keeping up-to-date with current and world affairs is also another trend being adopted by seniors. Printed media has its limitations, whereas online delivery of the daily news is fast, current and in a lot of cases, free. Using an app such as Flipboard, you can configure your daily reading to suite your interests—including News, Business, Tech & Science, Video, Cook Curators, Photos & Design, Living, Entertainment, Sports, Travel and Style.

Social media is not just the domain of Gen X and Gen Y. A study undertaken by showed that in 2010, 11% (14.7m users) of the US based Facebook population (133.9m users) were seniors.

For those seniors who have not come out of the workforce surrounded by technology, there is still the challenge of getting started. Telstra has been running the Telstra Connected Seniors® workshops around the country for several years. The programme has been created to help older Australian learn more about technology through interactive workshops. Recently Geelong’s Sacred Heart College students assisted participants in the use of iPhones and iPads. Apart from the basics, the workshop discussions include important areas such as cyber bullying and internet safety (avoiding scams). Full details are available on the Telstra Connected Seniors® programme website.

I love to hear stories from my friends how their parents are using technology. One friend’s mother has been playing Scrabble online (and quite competitively too I might add) with friends around the world for several years. No matter what hour of the day, she can always find someone to challenge. Our granddaughter keeps in touch with her other grandparents and great grandparents via Skype™ or FaceTime (under strict parental guidance of course!). The latest family event is captured on a phone and sent around the globe to be shared instantly. Another friend celebrated a family wedding and shared it “real time” with elderly relatives overseas.

Connected Seniors

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