UTOPIA: usable Technology for Older People: inclusive and appropriate

  The substantial opportunities presented to the IT industry by the ageing population of the developed world have been identified by the Foresight Programme.

Older people currently control over 80% of the wealth of the county, and many have a substantial disposable income. In the future, the proportion of older people is the population will increase greatly, these people will remain economically active longer, but also there will be a significant increase in the numbers needing long term care. There is no evidence that older people are averse to using new technologies, and there are market opportunities, and an economic imperative for the advantages of communication and information technologies to be extended to support this group.

A consortium of four Scottish Universities will link specialists in IT to support older and disabled people, and main stream researchers to facilitate the development of novel Human Computer Interaction Software Engineering and User Centred Design methodologies appropriate to older people. This unique collaboration will support new market opportunities for the Scottish Software and Creative Media Industries, as well as "Digital Scotland" and care of the elderly in Scotland.

The Department of Applied Computing at Dundee University is spearheading a movement to encourage research into Communications and Information Technology to assist older people. An external consultancy exercise has shown substantial support for a Research Centre in this field, and, following discussions with Clarence House, the University has agreed a £10M fund-raising campaign to institute the "Queen Mother Centenary Research Centre" with this as its remit. This SHEFC R & D Proposal is a proactive step to ensure that the influence of this Centre extends throughout Scotland.

A consortium of the major players in human computer interaction research will be set up to develop methodologies and the infrastructure necessary for including older people within user centred design processes for communication and computer technology and to develop appropriate research paradigms for this field. The consortium will examine the needs, wants and abilities of older people and facilitate the development of C& IT systems that are sensitive to this market. This initiative will ensure that academic computing departments in Scotland put serious research effort into this area, form links with their "mainstream" computing research and foster closer contact with the emerging industrial sector in Scotland .

An interdisciplinary team at Dundee led by Professor Newell, plus a Senior Academic (seconded to work on the project), and supported by two research assistants will be the focus for developing a methodology and infrastructure for "User Sensitive Inclusive Design". This novel design methodology was launched at the 2000 ACM International Conference on Universal Usability in Washington, where Newell was a specially invited delegate. It is based on User Centred Design principles, but overtly includes older people within the user population. It will include how to specify appropriate user groups, methodologies for sampling from groups, and effective ways of including the characteristics associated with growing older within the design brief.

Main-stream researchers from Computing Departments of the Universities of Glasgow, Napier, and Abertay Dundee will bring to the Consortium knowledge particularly in areas of mobile telecommunication systems, safety critical systems, multi-media and virtual reality systems, software development and the design, entertainment and games industries.

In its formative years the consortium will make extensive use of consultants related to the medical and social science professions. (In the longer term, these skills will be made available to the Consortium through the Queen Mother Centre). The Principal Investigators in the participating institutions will supervise Research Assistants who will provide advice and guidance to other projects in the Institutions and ensure that the needs of older people are included in their research: the particular areas will be Human Computer Interfaces, particularly for people with visual impairments, mobile & safety critical systems, (Glasgow), household environments, interaction design and user interfaces for all (Napier), games & multi-media (Abertay). An administrative assistant will be responsible for co-ordination, and organisation of inter-group workshops, and liaison with Scottish Industry. Dundee will provide training seminars/workshops for the participants, and a series of seminar/workshops with international researchers to provide access to leading edge information and guidance to the consortium. RAs will spend periods of time in the other institutions in the consortium in a formal programme of exchange visits.

The output from the consortium will be know-how and intellectual property to assist commercial innovation in Scotland and ensure an effective response to changing markets and promote the message that including a wider range of users within a user centred design methodology produces many improvements for all users, as has been found both by "Design for All" initiatives, and the Dundee group’s innovative "Ordinary and Extra-ordinary Human Computer Interaction" projects. The R& D grant will establish this consortium as a permanent feature of the Scottish research landscape. To sustain the initiative in the longer term, the focus of the consortium will be included within the Queen Mother Centenary Research Centre at Dundee University. A focus on the generation of externally funded research projects during the last year will ensure the continuation of all parts of the consortium. The heightened awareness of demographic trends produced by Foresight and other Government initiatives will cause an increase in funding opportunities via such initiatives as the EPSRC Equal Initiative and the European Framework 5, as well as through industrial collaborations. 2.5 Objectives of Proposal To establish an inter-university resource centre on computing and the elderly by providing seedcorn funding for what will become a permanent and important part of the Scottish scene, To extend the research base in Scotland which is responding to the ageing population, to raise the profile of this application area, and provide an Information Resource for this field in Scotland, To ensure that a significant amount of Human Computer Interaction research and development throughout Scotland becomes sensitive to the needs of the ageing population and develop the design paradigms, infrastructure and methodologies needed to underpin these developments,

  • Start Date:

    1 February 2002

  • End Date:

    1 May 2004

  • Activity Type:

    Externally Funded Research

  • Funder:

    Scottish Funding Council

  • Value:


Project Team