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Social Networking for Senior Citizens
Start date: Oct 1, 2009,

With 130 million regular users in 2008, if Facebook were a country it would be the 10th largest in the world. However, only 0.38% of Facebook users are over the age of 65 years, with only 1% over 55 years. 181 million Europeans visited social networking sites in 2007; only 1.3% were over 55 years; undisputable evidence of the enduring 'Digital Divide' in society. While some experts argue that the low participation in social networking among older people is due to the ample social networks they have in the real world, the majority of research in this area cites three main barriers;1. Low ICT penetration among the target group2. Lack of appropriate skills and training3. Low user motivation due to the lack of coherent and relevant content.In Europe, the estimated total population at January 1st 2009 stood at 497.7 million persons with approximately 17.4% of the total, circa 86 million, over 65 years old. The population of Europe is ageing fast with the number of older persons expected to grow significantly in real and relative terms in the next 30 years. It is estimated that better and more appropriate e-Government services and more accessible consumer services could save governments and consumers together anywhere between 35 to 85 billion euro over the next five years. The growing older population and their increasing reliance on certain government services as they age would suggest that significant savings could be made through proper deployment of accessible, appropriate online tools and services.15% of Europe's population has a disability. While this cohort are not exclusively older persons the incidence of sensory, motor or cognitive impairment increases with age. Research commissioned by the EU in 2008 into accessibility of ICT products and services to disabled and older people found that despite EU-level policy attention for a number of years the levels of web accessibility across Europe remain very low. It is widely recognised that ICT contributes to improving the quality of everyday life and social participation of Europeans. The challenge is to extend those benefits to senior citizens, a group most at risk of exclusion.In developing Europe's first social networking site designed specifically for older people,, the project consortium will focus on three key development areas concerning training, relevance and accessibility. Appropriate curricula and induction programmes will be designed for three distinct target groups with a significant role to play in developing, promoting and using the site, namely; relatives and people working with older persons; agencies providing services to older persons; and older persons themselves. These curricula will be cognisant of the learning capacity of older persons and concentrate on imparting necessary skills for engagement in the Information Society. Design for e-Accessibility will be a major priority and web architecture will comply fully with WCAG 2.0 guidelines. The issue of accessible content will also be addressed with software controlled templates developed that convert all uploaded content into accessible formats thereby ensuring accessibility-future-proofing. Key service providers in health care, local government, education, etc will be trained in the use of these templates and encouraged to upload relevant content and engage with the target group through the web platform. A wide range of content relevant to the target group will be made available to include; information and services; entertainment; online leisure activities; online shopping; clubs and forums for interaction. An 'Experimentation Lab' will also be developed and programmed to support constant evolution of the site and test new accessibility enhancements. An innovative foreign language learning tool for older persons will also be piloted and tested to facilitate virtual mobility, intercultural exchange and transnational engagement. The web site will be developed in all partner languages.

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