EAGER: Understanding Online Communication for Older Adults with Late-Life Vision Loss

Project: Research project

Project Details


Summary: The proposed work involves an exploratory study of a new approach to supporting online social interaction for people with progressive, late-life vision loss. The prevalence of blindness and vision impairment increases rapidly after age 75, and the onset of vision loss in late-life can significantly impact older adults' independence and ability to learn and use new computing technology. As a novel approach to addressing this challenging problem, the PI has developed a voice-based e-mail system that can be accessed through traditional telephones. The system leverages the familiarity and pervasiveness of traditional phones while enabling dynamic online interaction with one's social network. This approach has the potential to support the needs of older adults with late-life vision loss, yet it remains untested with this demographic. Specifically, the proposed research will: (1) establish initial feasibility of voice-based online communication by testing and refining system functionality with sighted older adults; (2) use in-depth interviews to identify strategies and adaptive techniques that older adults with late-life vision loss use to maintain communication; and (3) evaluate the usability and appeal of the developed voice-based communication system for older adults with late-life vision loss. Intellectual Merit: The proposed research will assess the potential for voice-based interfaces via traditional phones to support online communication for older adults with late-life vision loss. The results of this research will contribute (1) new knowledge of the feasibility of deploying a voice-based online messaging system with older adults in a naturalistic context, (2) identification of the online communication strategies used and challenges faced by older adults with late-life vision loss, revealing gaps in and new directions for accessibility research; and (3) an initial understanding of the potential for phone-based voice interfaces to support online interaction for older adults with late-life vision loss. The proposed approach of represents a novel way of enabling and studying online social interaction for older adults with late-life vision loss, making it possible to examine phenomena of online behavior with entirely new demographics. The emergence and rapid evolution of social computing presents major research challenges for many disciplines, particularly human-computer interaction. This research brings new knowledge and new tools to the forefront of this field while also contributing to interdisciplinary scholarship across computer science, communication studies, and gerontology. Broader Impacts: This research has the potential to enrich the lives of older adults with late-life vision loss by providing new methods of staying socially connected online. The impact of this work may be vast, as Internet using older adults are less likely to feel depressed or lonely, and online social support is associated with positive health outcomes in older adulthood. Without investment in new techniques for late-life social connectivity, as a society we will be dangerously unprepared to support aging populations online. This research will also help increase diversity in STEM. Graduate and undergraduate students from traditionally underrepresented groups in computing will take part in all aspects of the research, contributing to their broader education and training.
Effective start/end date2/15/151/31/17


  • National Science Foundation (IIS-1533340)


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