Researchers tout 'expanding targets' for older computer users

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Researchers tout 'expanding targets' for older computer users

Expanding icons, headings, and hyperlinks could help older people make better use of computers, researchers suggest.

The technology is expected to enable a greater number of older people to shop and communicate online, as well as access web-based information on topics such as healthcare services.

Such automatically expanding targets could be introduced through simple changes to software products, and could boost older people’s quality of life and enable continued independent living, especially if their ability to travel declines, researchers say.

“Using a computer mouse is fundamental to interacting with current computer interfaces”, said Faustina Hwang, who led the research at the University of Reading in the U.K.

“The introduction of expanding targets could lead to substantial benefits because older people would feel more confident in their ability to control a mouse and cursor.

“A computer can be a real lifeline for an older person, particularly if they're living alone, and expanding targets could help them harness that potential,” she said.

Hwang studied the responses of 11 elderly people to ‘expanding targets’ that automatically grow to twice their size as the cursor moves towards them.

Participants had an average age of just over 70, and were subjected to a 40 minute test session, using a laptop computer and a standard computer mouse.

By providing a much larger area to click on, the researchers found that expanding targets could halve the number of mistakes older people make when using a mouse to ‘point and click’.

Expanding targets also were found to reduce the time taken for participants to select a target by 13 per cent.

Although the potential advantages of expanding targets are well known in the computing research community, this study was the most comprehensive to date to focus specifically on their benefits for older people.

One of Hwang's PhD students is now investigating the specific difficulties older people experience when trying to double-click a computer mouse -- an essential function in opening applications and other key computing functions.
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