ERCIM News No.28 - January 1997

Disabled and Elderly People in the Information Society

by Constantine Stephanidis

In recent years, we have witnessed the revolutionary advances of Information Technology and Telecommunications. Technological progress is now rapidly leading us to a new concept of an Information Society, where citizens with different abilities, requirements, educational and cultural backgrounds and preferences, will need to perform, in the context of their everyday life activities, multi-modal interactions with multi-media applications and telematic services. This unstoppable technology push offers new opportunities for all citizens in society, including disabled and elderly people. However, it may also introduce new barriers, human isolation and alienation, if the diverse requirements of all potential users are not taken seriously into consideration.

Advances in Information Technology and Telecommunications have played a catalytic role in recent developments within the field of Assistive (Rehabilitation) Technology, facilitating the introduction of new products and services. Assistive Technology has applied Information Technologies, to promote the socio-economic integration and independent living of disabled and elderly people, offering technological support for interpersonal communication, education, vocational training, employment, recreation, etc. Current and future activities are expected to follow a multi-disciplinary and user-centred approach, aiming to ensure that the emerging technological developments, within the Information Society, will empower all citizens including disabled and elderly people, in their everyday life activities.

Towards these objectives, the role of the Commission of the European Union is instrumental. Several schemes have been followed to establish a complementary set of programmes, in order to initiate, promote and sustain a solid level of research and development in this field. These European-wide initiatives have established a multidisciplinary protocol of research and development, accommodating both exploratory and preparatory studies, as well as targeted research and development activities, in an effort to address the goal of integration of disabled and elderly people.

The TIDE Programme (Technology Initiative for Disabled and Elderly People) has promoted research and technological development to meet social and industrial goals, stimulating a single market in Assistive Technology in Europe, to facilitate the socio-economic integration of disabled and elderly people.

The COST 219 activities deal with problems related to the integration of disabled and elderly people in the community, their use of telecommuni-cations applications and telematic services, and the identification of the future possible impact of foreseen technological developments.

Other examples of European Commission technological initiatives, where specific research and development project work has addressed the requirements of people with disabilities, include the RACE and ACTS programmes.

In all these research and development activities co-ordinated and partially funded by the European Commission, ERCIM member institutes have shown considerable interest and active participation, with significant results and world-wide impact. The papers of this special theme are by no means an exhaustive account of research and development activities in the European Assistive Technology field, or in the application domain of Information Technology and Telecommunications in favour of disabled and elderly people, either at the European level, or across ERCIM member institutes. But, they provide a good indication of the type and extent of work that is being carried out within ERCIM; they also confirm the increasing interest and attention that work in this application domain is attracting across Europe.

The papers of this special theme present activities mainly within ERCIM member institutes and other affiliate organisations, which contribute to the goals of socio-economic integration and independent living of disabled and elderly people, demonstrating the potential impact of Information Technologies as an enabling force in society. Additionally, two articles from the USA and Japan provide snapshots of work outside Europe.

Please contact:
Constantine Stephanidis ­ ICS-FORTH
Tel: +30 81 391741

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