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Banner smart accessibility awards 2012

AGE Platform Europe

Getting old now is no longer what it used to be 50 or even 20 years ago. Along with rising life expectancy, more and more older citizens feel they still have a lot to give and to experience even after they have reached an advanced age.

Although this should be regarded and celebrated as a major scientific and social achievement, a lot has to be done at all levels to enable everyone to enjoy life at all ages and make the best of one’s potential for the benefit of all..

2012 is the European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations (EY2012)

This European Year offers the opportunity to mobilize all actors and resources to find innovative solutions to address the demographic challenge and create an age-friendly environment allowing all citizens to lead more active and independent lives for longer.

This EU Year is an important achievement for AGE, which has been actively campaigning for several years now to promote the Year and a comprehensive approach of the concept of active ageing within a growing coalition of stakeholders (EY2012 coalition).

In 2011 the EU launched its first European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing, which enters its implementation phase in the course of 2012. This initiative aims to tackle societal challenges through research and innovation, and undoubtedly mainstream mobile technologies have an important role to play in that respect.

AGE Platform Europe is a European network of more than 165 members organisations of and for older people, which aims to voice and promote the interests of the 150 million senior citizens in the European Union and to raise awareness on the issues that concern them most. Through its membership, AGE represents directly more than 30 million senior citizens across the EU.

The accessibility of the new technologies is an issue AGE is dealing with as an important factor of social integration, participation and cohesion and a way of promoting equal opportunity for all. We hope this competition will help reach that goal and contribute to the objective of the European Year 2012 for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations, i.e. to increase older people’s active participation in employment and society and promote independent living in old age.

“In the beginning older people can show distance towards innovative technology but they are happy to use the technologies if they address their needs, if they are accompanied with social attention ad support and if they receive the necessary training”.

Heidrun Mollenkopf, AGE Chair of the Universal Accesibility and Universal Design Expert Group on the occasion of the COFACE e-Health Seminar, April 2012

Understanding older people

Ageing is related to personal constraints, both physical and psychological, such as gradual loss of sensory abilities (hearing, eyesight, taste etc), physical impairments (speech, dexterity, mobility, strength, endurance, etc) and cognitive and intellectual problems (memory loss, information processing, etc). However most of the problems older people face today arise not from the fact that they are ageing but because our environment is too slow to adapt to our ageing society.

Older people cannot be defined as belonging in an age group over a certain numeric ceiling. Nowadays old age can span 30 or 40 years so putting everyone in one same basket is simply not relevant. Not all older people are frail and impaired. Neither is everyone interested in ICT. Unlike some may think, many among them do not want to give up their privacy in order to feel safer at home. Seniors may be unaware of how technology can affect their lives or are misinformed.  For those who do see the benefits, the lack of digital skills or limited financial resources may be important barrier preventing them from taking advantage of what the information society has to offer.

"Smartphones apps can play a very useful role in support to older people. For example, in Greece a project called Silver Alert has developed a network similar to the one that exists to report missing children and used to report missing older people. with the use of mobile technologies, a photo of the missing person can be sent to all smartphones in the country with the telephone number to report the missing person. This has helped find children quickly after they disappeared and could help save the life of older demented persons”.

Myrto Ranga, 50+ Hellas on the occasion of the WeDO project steering group meeting, April 2012

Older people may live in private homes, social flats, public housing, residential or long-term care institutions. They tend to spend extended periods living alone as families no longer congregate in one locality. The shrinking family and social networks impact not only their care options but also their opportunities for communication, leisure and social participation. The impoverished and those living in rural or remote areas are particularly affected by this problem.

Older people may be vulnerable consumers due to lack of vigilance or skills but also due to misleading marketing. In addition, some retired people and especially older women have a higher risk of being in a poverty trap and are denied access to basic services, including new technologies.

 Older people are not a burden to society; they are an invaluable resource with a variety of capacities. In employment older people contribute to the economy and as experienced workers they can mentor younger cohorts. The economic and social impact of older people’s volunteering and informal caring (for their peers as well as for the younger generations) is enormous. With the demographic shift, seniors represent an important market segment and a real opportunity for a silver economy.  Intergenerational learning and social cohesion is another area where older people play an important role in today’s societies.

While the numbers of older people will continue to grow in the coming decades, we need to provide smart, accessible and inclusive solutions so that everyone, regardless of their age, is able to engage, contribute and prosper.

The challenges and the opportunities of the demographic shift

The EU is ageing due to the combination of two factors: life expectancy is increasing while the number of children is decreasing.

In 2008, 17% of the EU population was aged 65 and over and this is likely to rise to around 24% by 2030. It is projected that by 2060 more than 30% of the population will belong to the 65+ age group.

Although better health and longer lives is something to celebrate,  today’s societies need to adapt themselves to the accelerating demographic change by addressing both the existing and evolving needs of older people and by tackling challenges faced by all age groups to avoid shortcomings.

The challenges: 

  • Older people are not homogeneous group; they have different needs and expectations

Innovating for an ageing population implies encompassing persons with different age, sex, ethnic and geographic origin, level of education, social and cultural backgrounds; level of income; with wide variation of cognitive and physical abilities; with different approaches and familiarity to technology.

  • Increasing risk of competence loss for the EU population as a result of the increasing proportion of older people

On average men spend 15 years and women 20 years in poor health. In order to contribute to society people must be physically able to work and enjoy healthy life years.

  • The number of the very  old (aged 80 years or above) will double

45% of those aged 75 and older are impaired in their daily living activities. Today's current economic crisis will make it much more difficult to meet the needs of the rapidly growing number of very old and chronically ill in a context of long term public budget consolidation.

  • Decreasing family and professional support options

While the care needs continue to grow there is a shortage of workers in the care sector. Bearing in mind the changing family patterns and the fact that the majority of the informal carers are themselves older people (over 50 years old), solutions to facilitate the work of the professional and informal carers must be sought.

  • The risk of poverty and social exclusion increases with age and lack of activity

Old-age income is shrinking mainly due to the diminishing pensions and the rising health and long-term care costs. Until now the younger, healthier, better educated and wealthier older people profit the most from technological developments. Smart solutions need to be developed to guarantee a dignified old age to all including the most vulnerable and those with low financial resources.  The elderly, especially women, are particularly at risk of social exclusion

  • The 55+ age group and the elderly (65-74) lag far behind other age groups in digital literacy

The more older people have worked with computers when they were younger, the more familiar they are with technology and the more comfortable they will feel with new ICT tools. Digital literacy should be carefully considered to avoid deepening the digital divide and creating barriers and inequalities between those who can benefit from technology and those who cannot.

    • Living in rural and/or remote areas imposes additional challenges for older people

    Living in the countryside is likely to provide better quality of living especially for those with low pensions but lack of basic public services (post office, banks, public transport, cultural facilities, hospitals, GPs, long-term care institutions, etc) and social isolation cause major obstacles to older people.

    “I am behaving like a normal user of apps - 10 minutes maximum to understand what it can do and how it works - after that I discard it... I cheated and got friend to hold my hand when I started - as some things you have to hold down a long time - something I did not realize”. 

    Elisabeth Mestheneos, AGE past president on the occasion of the 2011 Smart Accessibility Awards

    The opportunities:

    Technology has the potential to provide compensation and assistance in tackling the demographic challenge. It can be key to providing citizens of all ages with autonomy, chances to contribute to society, stay healthy, receive information, undertake education and be active in the social and economic sphere.

    • Europeans over 65 possess wealth and revenues of over 3000B€

    • The market for smart homes applications (age-related assistance in shopping, moving independently etc) will triple between 2005 and 2020, from 13 million people up to 37 million
    • Early patient discharge from hospital due to the introduction of mobile health monitoring would save €1.5 billion p.a. in Germany alone

    Social participation: refers to applications which help users to participate actively in today's society and benefit from the facilities that the new technologies can offer whatever their age and/or capacity.

    Mobile technologies represent a real opportunity to combat isolation and social exclusion. They can be gateway to education, communication and leisure, enabling users to be included in all parts of social life. The developed applications could for instance offer alternatives to TV which is the main entertainment mode for older people, such as information about accessible cultural events, or facilitate interaction with family and friends around favourite TV programmes. They may help seniors participate in lifelong learning activities and be informed about the existing opportunities to volunteer in their communities. They may also help older people improve their ICT competences or learn new skills.

    Independent living: refers to applications which help users to be more autonomous and lead an independent life.

    Responding to the needs of an older population implies giving them tools to age autonomously and in dignity. With a growing proportion of older people more and more individuals face difficulties in accomplishing daily activities, such as dealing with administrative tasks, assessing energy consumption, finding nearby groceries or post offices, search for information, helping in preparing meals, alerting on medication take-up or reporting side effects. Likewise, technology can support informal carers, including family members, helping them do their job more efficiently, faster and in a safer way, but also address the needs of older people living in rural areas.

    Mobility: refers to applications which enable users to move around more freely and safely using the whole range of transport modes.

    Mobility and access to all relevant modes of transport is a requirement for the full inclusion of older people in society. Applications in this category could help older people feel confident when moving, alerting them about the physical barriers in a certain area, but also the seating benches, public toilets, accessible restaurants, pharmacies, doctors, etc. Such a service is particularly relevant when travelling to other cities or countries. For the car generation, giving up driving due to age-related impairments, heavily impacts on their psychology (as they feel they have lost their freedom and independence) but also their everyday lives as they have to rely mainly on public transport to move around.

    Mobile technologies can help providing real-time information on transport alternatives and timetables, facilitating seamless travel for persons with reduced mobility, supporting orientation within stations and terminals, giving alternatives to ticketing machines, or organizing transport on demand.

    Wellbeing: refers to applications which improve the users' health as well as overall feeling of wellbeing.

    Increasing age and life years spent in poor health mean greater medical needs in particular with regard to pathologies such as degenerative vascular diseases, cancer, and Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases. Improving the quality of life of seniors is crucial so that they stay engaged in society. Technologies for the wellbeing of older people can target health prevention, for instance applications with advices for physical activities and diet. They may aim at improving their mental skills or boosting their psychology, by combating stress and depression.

    The risks

    The Information Society is a potential tool but also a potential new barrier to inclusion of people with disabilities and older people. A number of risks have to be taken into account when developing applications for an ageing population.

    “Many older people do not have someone in their social network who is able to help them with the installation of new equipment, teach them the necessary skills and help them when they have problems. Older people looking for assistance can easily fall in the hands of crooks: people who do not know what they are doing or who charge unnecessarily high fees. If you have had bad experiences and have no trustworthy person to help you this can be a barrier to the use of ICT”.

    Marja Pijl, AGE Expert on the occasion of the AAL Forum, Odense, September 2010

    • Older people, when faced with new technologies, can find themselves in a relatively weak position. Often the complexity of the technologies, the fact that they do not meet older people’s needs, the use of technical jargon and English terminology (for non-native speakers), or the fact that they are not adequately available and affordable may lead to frustration, disappointment but also increased dependency.
    •  Innovating for a minority of users means widening the already existing digital divide: developers should consider possible barriers to the take-up of the system and aim at mainstream accessible applications so that everyone regardless of their personal situation can take advantage of the technology.
    • Offering alternatives for entertainment at home entails an inherent risk of becoming dependent upon virtual reality, increasing isolation and avoiding human contact.  
    • The developed applications should comply with ethical principles, including privacy and data protection rules as well as safety requirements, in order to be accepted by the user community.
    • Creating reliable applications is particularly important as the risk of having a system that is likely to fail or that needs regular service, is a major disincentive for technology take-up by older people even if they will profit in the long run.
    • Innovation driven by the technology-push only, scares or disinterests older people. Users should have a say on what is developed for them, which not only increases their sense of ownership but is also beneficial for developers as they create products which are really relevant to older people.
    • The degree to which older people will use smart technologies will depend largely on their function and added value, their attractiveness, their accessibility, their cost, their reliability and their simplicity.

    Application requirements

    Guidelines for developers

    Older users of smartphone applications are in fact normal users. If it takes a lot of time to understand how the application works, they lose interest and they discard it. If they have to read a manual of 100 pages, or instructions are unclear, then they will not accept it just because it is supposed to be good for them. Simple instructions embedded in the application are of course welcome.

More Information on AGE Platform Europe

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AGE was set up in January 2001 following a process of discussion on how to improve and strengthen cooperation between older people's organizations at EU level. AGE’s guiding principles include creating a society for all ages, valuing older people as a resource and allowing them to speak on their behalf. AGE seeks to give a voice to older and retired people in the EU policy debates, through the active participation of their representative organisations at EU, national, regional and local levels, and provides a European platform for the exchange of experience and best practices.

AGE projects on ICT and accessibility:

For more information on the European Year 2012 (EY2012):

  • EY2012 Coalition Manifesto for an Age-Friendly European Union by 2020/ Manifeste pour une Union Européenne de tous les ages d'ici 2020: in EN, FR, IT, ES, NL, SL, BG and PL
  • EY2012 Coalition Roadmap towards and beyond the European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations 2012 (EY2012): EN, FR
  • How to promote active ageing in Europe - EU support to local and regional actors/ EN - FR - DE
  • European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations 2012: Everyone has a role to play! / Année européenne pour le vieillissement actif et la solidarité entre les générations 2012: Nous avons tous un rôle à jouer! EN - FR - ES - IT

More information about the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing (EIP-AHA)

Key Facts

  • Entry Phase: 30th May ~ 15th October 2012
  • All entries must be received by 12:00 GMT on the closing date of 15th October 2012.
  • Round 1 Judging: 18th October ~ 9th November 2012
  • Final Judging Round (Location - Brussels): 17th December 2012.
  • 4 winners: €50,000 each 
  • 1 winner per category (4) 
    • Social participation 
    • Independent living 
    • Mobility 
    • Wellbeing
  • Entry Criteria / Selection Process Details
  • Competition Terms and Conditions


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