Exploring traditional phones as an e-mail interface for older adults

Robin Brewer, Raymundo Cornejo Garcia, Tedmond Schwaba, Darren Gergle, Anne Marie Piper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


This article explores the design and development of voice interfaces via traditional telephones as a way of supporting asynchronous online communication for older adults. E-mail is the primary form of online communication for older adults. However, e-mail communication currently requires access to and the ability to use an Internet-connected computer or device, whichmay be problematic due to barriers of physical access, expense, insufficient computer skill, or other accessibility issues. To address this, the present work leverages the pervasive hardware of traditional phones and familiar nonvisual models of phone-based interaction to create a new e-mail interface for older adults. We examine the potential of e-mail interaction via traditional phones through long-term field observations, prototype testing, and a four-week field-based user study. Our findings indicate that a simple voice e-mail interface accessed through traditional phones is usable for older adults and is a useful way for offline older adults to interact with an e-mail account. The ease of use and convenience of a phone-based interface are important given the "work" of keeping in touch over e-mail, and this approach has the potential to open up new avenues of online access for older adults who are still offline or who have late-life disabilities that make using traditional graphical e-mail systems difficult. This project contributes new insights regarding the ways in which voice interfaces can support asynchronous online communication for older adults and provides design guidance for the development of subsequent voice interfaces.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number6
JournalACM Transactions on Accessible Computing
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 2016


  • Communication
  • E-mail
  • Older adults
  • Telephones

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Science Applications


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