REDMOND, Wash., Feb. 2, 2004 — Accessible computer technology, often associated only with people with disabilities, can benefit a much larger segment of the population, according to a new study conducted by Forrester Data and commissioned by Microsoft Corp.
While accessibility options were originally designed for people with disabilities, the Forrester study shows that 57 percent of current working-age computer users may benefit from accessible technology because of mild to severe vision, hearing, dexterity, speech and cognitive difficulties and impairments. As the U.S. population continues to age, the number of people who experience these impairments will increase, and more people will likely turn to accessible technology to mitigate the effects of their changing physical abilities.
“Future economists studying 21st-century workforce trends will find the most successful companies were the ones that saw the worker shortage looming and put in place strategies to minimize the impact,” said Beth B. Buehlmann, executive director of the Center for Workforce Preparation, U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “Valuing the contributions of aging workers and providing the assistive technologies to help retain them in the workplace are two such strategies.”
To help address this issue, Microsoft today kicked off an Aging Workforce campaign to educate aging workers and employers on how accessible technology can help them keep their competitive edge and help businesses recruit and retain aging workers. One campaign goal is to make more people aware of how they can make their computer easier to use by adjusting built-in Microsoft® Windows®
operating system options, such as the text size and color and system sounds. The campaign takes a lighthearted approach and includes helpful information at the new Web site called Overview of Aging and Accessible Technology ( http://www.microsoft.com/enable/aging/ ),” which includes a list of tips accompanied by illustrations by Brian Basset, nationally syndicated cartoonist and creator of “Adam@Home.”
Microsoft, which for 15 years has had a corporate policy to make its technology accessible to all users, commissioned a nationwide study to better understand the potential market for accessible technology. The report, “The Wide Range of Abilities and Its Impact on Computer Technology,” brings to light the large number of people with mild difficulties and impairments who may benefit from accessible technology. For example, people who have trouble reading ordinary newsprint — a difficulty common to approximately one-third of U.S. adults aged 18 to 64 — also may find it hard to read text on a computer screen; this problem can be solved easily by enlarging the size of the text.
“The research results — particularly the high number of computer users with impairments — were surprising initially, but we knew they could help dispel the traditional idea that people fall into only two categories: those with disabilities and those without,” said Madelyn Bryant McIntire, director of the Accessible Technology Group at Microsoft. “In fact, there are millions of people along the continuum of human ability for whom accessible technology can make a difference. Microsoft is sharing the results of this study in the hope that this new information will provide an additional incentive for all of us in the technology industry to continue innovating in the area of accessible product design.”
Aging Workforce Campaign: Providing Technology Resources, Solutions for Aging Workers
The Forrester study underscores the link between the aging population and the increasing need for accessible technology. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 50 percent of the U.S. workforce will be 40 years old or older by 2010. This trend is likely to continue; the number of younger workers entering the workforce is expected to decline while older workers are likely to delay retirement.
AARP (formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons) reports that, because of improved health and longevity as well as financial need, 69 percent of employees over age 45 plan to continue working past age 65. These statistics emphasize the urgent need to begin evaluating and addressing the affect this demographic shift will have on the nation’s workforce and economy.
“Whether out of choice or necessity, mid-career and older workers are planning to stay active in the workforce much longer, and having access to technology that recognizes and accommodates their changing abilities is going to be critical,” said Jim Emerman, chief operating officer of the American Society on Aging. “The campaign that Microsoft has launched to raise awareness of this issue among businesses and older workers themselves is a vital contribution to helping our society adapt to changing demographics, and we are pleased to have Microsoft as a partner in this effort.”
Microsoft’s new aging workforce Web site, http://www.microsoft.com/enable/aging/ , provides tutorials and other resources that help businesses and information workers implement solutions to the challenge of an aging workforce. To help communicate this information, Basset created a series of downloadable cartoons that feature Adam facing the ways that growing older is affecting his computer use.
“Like my character Adam, I firmly believe that humor is an aging worker’s best ally in the war against bifocals and stiff joints,” Basset said. “I hope people will post these cartoons around their workplace as a way to not only have a laugh or two, but also to learn how a few tweaks to their computer settings can help offset some of the more common aspects of aging.”
Also included on the site content are these resources:
A new Microsoft white paper, “The Convergence of the Aging Workforce and Accessible Technology,” outlines the challenges at hand for aging workers and their employers, and offers guidance for both groups on how they can use accessible technology to their advantage. The white paper can be found at http://www.microsoft.com/enable/aging/workforce.aspx .
The site includes information about technology features that are available in existing software and hardware but often go unused. Microsoft Windows XP, for instance, provides numerous features that can help users experiencing mild to moderate vision, hearing and dexterity impairments.
Step-by-step tutorials walk users through the process of activating the accessibility features in Windows and Office.
Information also is available on assistive technology products. These products are specially designed to accommodate individual needs. The site lists more than 100 companies that offer products such as speech recognition systems, alternative keyboards and screen readers.
The Forrester Study: Additional Background and Methodology
In spring 2003, Forrester Data conducted a nationwide study of a representative sample of the U.S. population (with a statistical precision of plus or minus 1 percent) to measure the potential U.S. market of people who could benefit from using accessible technology. The study identified the type and severity of difficulties and impairments that respondents experience when performing daily tasks. Respondents were asked a range of questions about difficulties and impairments, computer use, their attitudes toward technology, and their demographic characteristics. The complete Forrester study can be accessed at http://www.microsoft.com/enable/research/ .
About Microsofts Accessible Technology Group
Microsofts dedication to making its technology accessible to all users began with the launch of Windows 2.0 in 1988, and the company further strengthened that commitment in July 1995 with a corporate policy that makes every employee responsible for ensuring that all users have access to Microsoft products and services. More information about Microsofts accessibility efforts can be found at http://www.microsoft.com/enable/ .
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