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What I’m learning about the way people use technology as a Peer Researcher

Updated: Jul 13, 2023

I’m Jim from Just Straight Talk and I lead the Digi Dudley project which supports older people (usually people over the age of 65) with their confidence and skills in relation to technology. I currently support 72 individuals.

Digi Dudley logo

My participants use a range of technology, from laptops to tablets and smartphones. I would say that smartphones are probably the most common, followed by tablets and laptops. Many of my participants joined the project wanting to learn more about what their technology can do, as they did not know where to start. The NHS App was something which most people were aware of. People have not usually started with wanting to use technology for health services, but have shown interest when it has been suggested to them at a later point. They have then often continued to use the NHS app after it has been set up. Most have described it as fairly simple and easy to use, which is why they have continued to use it. There have still been frustrations with using the app, such as feeling forced to do so in order to get medications or feeling that they are not able to use the app properly to see their full health record. Not having someone to talk to face-to-face has also been a big deterrent.

When it comes to technology generally, the form of technology itself can act as a barrier. A tablet or phone might have too small a screen for people with poor eyesight. People with shaky hands might struggle with touch screens (a common difficulty is accidentally dragging icons rather than tapping on them to open them, because the slightest movement might change the action of the tablet). Alternatively, when using a laptop, many have struggled adapting to using a mouse. Some also feel that there is more information showing on laptops and more options which can lead to people feeling lost. Pop-ups only add to this. When people feel lost it decreases their confidence and can prevent them from wanting to engage with the technology further. It is for this reason that I would say simplicity is important for accessibility and inclusivity. Flexibility is vital too because, while some of my participants found that they could access tablets easier, others found laptops more accessible. Flexibility in health technologies also needs to extend to the format of what is displayed. Some of my participants find comic sans font in the colour blue easier to read, while others prefer a bold black font on a white background. Colour overlays are often used in schools to help children with their learning and I think something similar would be useful if available within or alongside health technologies (in addition to magnifiers).

While having these options is important, I think there will always be lots of options that need to be available to participants which can, again, lead participants to feel overwhelmed. I know I am biased, but I believe that it is for this reason that people on the Digi Dudley project have felt encouraged by having a ‘Digi Buddy’, since the Digi Buddy can be aware of all the options and shape the technology to the individual’s needs without their participant feeling overwhelmed by all the options. I think a similar service purely for health technologies would be incredibly useful. It will be interesting to see what other conclusions are drawn from the research.

An elderly man and woman sitting on a sofa smiling to camera
Digi Dudley participants

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