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The plan to assist the use of the information and communication technology, and secure the web accessibility for elderly and disabled individuals

Press Release [1] of The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications [2] on May 23rd, 2000

 


Anyone can benefit from call forwarding services and international calling services if they communicate frequently overseas. International calling services include callback service, as well as voice over IP.

Translated by Kaoruko M. Nakano, 
Vice President & Secretary, Pacific Prologue Corporation, San Jose, California.

The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications and the Ministry of Welfare has set up the working group for “The study of how to support the use of information and communication technology (IT), among elderly and disabled individuals”, the chairperson of which is Hiroshi Takahashi, Rikkyo University professor, and held the meetings since January 2000. The WG published a report of the results of their study.

This report discusses about the present status regarding how to support elderly and disabled individuals of the use of IT and the future task to make it more convenient. In accordance with this report, the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications and the Ministry of Welfare will work together and examine the way to materialize the proposed plan. The full report was attached to this press release but only the abstract is described below.

Abstract of the Report

1. The current status regarding the support for the use of IT among elderly and disabled individuals

(1) The current support system

Japanese society is aging drastically and by the year 2015, one fourth of the Japanese population will be over 65 years old. Among the population of the disabled people, physically handicapped people will be about 3 million eighteen thousands and mentally handicapped people will be 2 million seventeen thousands. As the aging of the society progresses, especially the population of physically handicapped people has increased rapidly. The importance of the use of communication technology among elderly and disability individuals grew due to not only the increase of elderly but also the dramatic IT development together with the reform of social welfare system in Japan. The nonprofit organizations (NPOs) and other social welfare related corporations started actively supporting elderly and disabled people to use IT. However, the use of IT among elderly and disabled individuals hasn’t progressed much compared to the general public.

 

  • Reform of social welfare system

In April 2000, the public insurance system for nursing became effective to help solving the existing problems in the nursing of elderly people who need daily care. The problems were (1) municipalities selected the kind of service and its provider without users’ choice, (2) the service was basically provided by municipal or consignment. Therefore there was no competition among providers and the service itself was too standardized.

The following two new approaches are introduced. They are (1) user is able to select their choice of service, (2) not only public organizations but also various private businesses compete with each other to provide efficient and high quality service

  • Realization of the information barrier free environment

Japanese Government is promoting several plans to provide environment where there is no social and economic gap between ordinary users and elderly and disabled people in access to the technology. The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications have held informal meetings for discussion since December 1999 on the issue of information barrier free and exchanged broad knowledge with experts on this matter.

  • Importance of the use of IT for elderly and disabled people

As the population statistics show, it will be crucial in the future to provide necessary information on the social welfare system to elderly and disabled people. And it is important that (a) elderly and disabled people can choose their own necessary service from massive amount of information and (b) various enterprises enter the field of social welfare and grow in competition with each other on the principle of open management. The user is required to not only receive but also transmit necessary information themselves in order to keep the healthy development of social welfare system. Therefore the availability of the IT for elderly and disabled people becomes more and more important.

 

A. Various entities in the field of social welfare

(a) The role of NPOs and social welfare foundations

Due to not only the introduction of new social welfare system but also people’s change in value, it became indispensable for various entities to enter the social welfare field for the development of welfare system in the local areas. The social activities including volunteer work are expanding in Japan. Until April 21, 2000, 2,322 organizations applied for the set up of NPO and 1,833 were authorized. Majority of activities of new organizations were in the field of health, medicine, and welfare. Also the efforts of the Government to restructure the social welfare system would enrich, revitalize and diversify the undertakings of the private enterprises in the social welfare projects.

 

(b) The role of assisting the use of IT among elderly and disabled people

Several NPOs started assisting the use of IT for elderly and disabled people. Sendai Senior Net Club is facilitating the elderly people to fulfill their life by using IT. Also a social welfare corporation Prop Station is promoting the independence and participation of the disabled people in the society by using IT. For example in 1999, they held a lecture class which assists disabled people to work at home using Internet.

 

B. Reality of the use of Internet among elderly and disabled people

(a) Explosive diffusion of Internet and creation of network society

The Japanese use rate of Internet in 1999 is as follows:

  • Organization: 78.3% (14.6 points increase from 1998)

  • Office: 31.8% (12.6 points increase)

  • Household: 19.1% (8.1 points increase)

 

(b) Reality of the use of Internet among elderly and disabled people

The use rate of IT devices among elderly people over 65 years old is as follows:

  • Word processor: 14.2% (1.3 points increase from 1998)

  • Fax: 12.2% (1.5 points increase)

  • Personal computer: 5.4% (1.5 points increase)

 

The use rate of Internet among elderly and disabled people is as follows:

  • Elderly people: 0.6%

  • Disabled people: 7.8%

The breakdowns of the use rate among disabled people are:

  • Visually disabled: 3%

  • Auditory disabled: 4.1%

  • Speech impediment: 14.5%

  • Physically disabled: 8.2%

  • Children with learning disorder: 0.7%

  • Elderly people with need of care: 0.5%

 

(c) Need of assistance in the use of IT among elderly and disabled people

Elderly people are considered to be in the state of information illiteracy and disabled people have problems in getting necessary assistance in accordance with the type and intensity of disability. In order to establish the use of IT among elderly and disabled population, it is necessary not only to develop the technology but also to make IT device and service available to them. The most frequent answer for not using IT is unavailability of people who can teach and assist them how to use.

 

Reasons Why People don't Use the Internet : Table Follows

Reasons

Elderly

Disabled

No knowledge of what it can do 23.9% 30.3%
No one can teach how to use it

18.6%

24.0%

The device is too expensive

16.4%

43.5%

Lack of opportunity to start 16.4% 25.9%
No knowledge of how to use the device or software 15.7% 25.1%
No knowledge of the necessary device or software 12.5% 25.2%
Don’t know anyone to ask 11.8% 16.3%
No knowledge of which provider or network to use 10.7% 22.0%
Too expensive cost for communication 10.4% 28.9%
Lack of suitable materials for them 9.6% 8.4%
Physical ability prohibits the use of device 9.3% 7.2%
Assistance is not available when they want to use 6.4% 11.7%
No knowledge of how and where to get the service provider 4.3% 14.1%
Too expensive fee of provider membership 3.9% 19.4%
Other reason 9.6% 11.2%
No reason 30.4% 8.6%
No answer 7.5% 15.5%

 

C. Examples of assistance for the use of IT

(a) Sendai Senior Net Club

This club was founded in 1998 by the people who finished the “Fun Internet class for 60 years and older.” There are two objectives for this club:

  • Prevent elderly people from becoming underdogs of information by teaching and assisting IT such as Internet.

  • Positively use elderly people who are skilled in Internet as volunteer instructors.

In 2000, this club held 91 Internet classes (235days) and the number of participants reached 1,064. The characteristic of this club is the association of more than 30 local businesses, universities, and groups. And each group member of the association has a clear role and purpose of its activity.

 

(b) The Kanazawa council to make it an information longevity town

In 1995, “the Kanazawa council to make it an information longevity town” was established with support of the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, the Ministry of Welfare, the city of Kanazawa, and organizations in the field of welfare, health, and medicine. As a model community, the city of Kanazawa developed the IT system related to the welfare, health, and medicine for elderly people, and carried out experiments to find the usefulness of the technology. The examples of corroborative experiments are the following:

  • Examine a newly developed system for elderly and disabled people to connect to the Internet through phone or fax

  • Easy and effective tele-learning system for elderly people to improve information literacy

  • Test a newly developed system for the elderly and disabled people to create a web page easily

These experiments were carried out mainly at "The life fulfilling & information center of Kanazawa city". This center was established by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunication for the undertaking to provide a tele-work center without information barriers for elderly and disabled people.

 

D. Other activities of assistance for the use of IT among elderly and disabled people

(a) The Telecommunication Association

In 1998 the Telecommunication Association organized a volunteer group to promote the Internet environment for everybody. This volunteer group responds to the requests to teach at computer classes for elder people, which are sponsored by the local public organization, the post office, and the school board. They have been teaching basic skills how to use computers.

 

(b) Post offices

Since 1997, the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications have held the personal computer classes for elderly people. The classes will be held at 1,800 places in 2000. Several follow-up schemes for participants such as establishment of the post office PC club are planned in 2000.

 

(2) The current status of web accessibility

Considering the explosive spread of Internet, we need to ensure not only the development of electronic communication devices but also the web accessibility. W3C (World Wide Web Consortium)’s WAI (Web Accessibility Initiative) developed a guideline in 1999. The United States has the Rehabilitation Act and preparing a new regulation regarding the federal government’s web information. Fundamental Law for the disabled people (1970 law No.84) stipulates “Our state and local public institutions must take necessary measures to provide the environment and facility for the disabled people where they can use information, electronic communication, and broadcasting smoothly.” (The first clause of Article 22)

 

2. The problems related to the support for elderly and disabled individuals to use IT

(1) The problems related to the human support

Lack of facilities

The one of the biggest task from now is to prepare facilities where NPOs can perform their activity. As explained later, it is important to secure the facility and centralize the necessary resources for NPOs to provide support such as materials, talents, and information with effective management. Especially for the support of elderly peoples for the use of IT, it is important to provide a place where they can meet with other elderly people and use the technology regularly. It will support them to fulfill their life and also stabilize the results of learning. Most of the human support for the elderly and disabled people is provided by the NPOs and social welfare organizations with little financial resources. Statistically 68.1% of Japanese NPOs have full-time employees and 54.3% of those have only 1-3 employees. 90.6% of all NPOs receive membership fees but 68.3% of those fees are in the range of 1 to 200,000. ($1= 133; 2/12/02) Therefore, the financial support of the government or other local public institutes is necessary for the NPOs to have facilities with barrier free environment for elderly and disabled people.

 

Association of various organizations

Presently various local organizations are involved in the activities related to the welfare of elderly and disabled people. It is important to exchange information about new technology and management plans, especially the training for the support activities among organizations. It is necessary to develop a nationwide association to improve the support level.

 

Introduction of peer support

One of the main problems regarding the support for elderly people is the lack of information. And the support for disabled people should be provided in accordance with the different needs based on the type and level of disabilities. Therefore the involvement of elderly and disabled people in the support activity, namely the peer support, will be effective since the support could be provided from the viewpoint of users. The person who received the support will be able to provide the support next time and the circle of support expands. It is expected to provide the elderly and disabled people a chance to participate in the society and give feelings of fulfillment in their life.

 

(2) Problems to ensure the web accessibility

Recognition of the problem

It is more difficult to ensure the web accessibility in comparison to the EIT devices because a large number of developers are involved in the process. However it is essential to provide web accessibility to guarantee the rights to access necessary information for the people who tend to have difficulty in moving around. It is important to inform about web accessibility not only to the elderly and disabled people, who are directly affected by the problems, but also everyone by pointing out the examples.

 

Reflection of users' opinions

To ensure the web accessibility, it is necessary to consider the development of web pages and also the support technology to access the information on web pages. It is necessary to have a system for the collection of useful information of elderly and disabled people and reflect them for the development of technologies.

 

Correspondence to the diverse ways to connect Internet

It is necessary to consider the accessibility using new technologies such as PDA (personal digital assistance) and cellar phone terminal.

  • Number of cellar phone subscribers

1997: 31,526,870 (51.0% increase from 1996)

1998: 41,530,002 (31.7% increase from 1997)

1999: 51,138,946 (23.1% increase from 1998)

 

  • Number of Internet users by cellar phone terminal

December 1999: 3,673,000

January 2000: 4,593,000

February 2000: 5,690,000

March 20000: 7,499,000

 

3. Urgent needs to assist the use of IT among elderly and disabled people

(1) Urgent needs for the human support

Support for the provision of solid activity base

As covered in 2(1), it is necessary to provide a base facility for user support. The solid activity base may include a new or repaired facility and the use of existing buildings such as post office and local public institutions. Therefore, it is important to encourage such local institutions to provide their facilities as an activity base to support the elderly and disabled people. Another approach is a government support for the activities such as Kanazawa city (cf. 2(2)). It is also necessary to understand the role of NPOs and social welfare foundations and consider the support for their activities.

 

Presentation of model cases

Even though there are couples of pioneer activities of assistance for the use of IT among elderly and disabled people, such examples are still rare. Therefore it is important to let other community know those activities as concrete model plans. Regarding the running cost of the activity base in the future, it is also effective to cooperate with other government projects related to the community support activities.

 

(2) The present plan to ensure web accessibility

Urgent needs for public organizations

It is necessary to show not only the elderly and disabled people but also other people the actual examples to find out the problems in web accessibility. For the web pages of general use, it is necessary to develop the inspection system to create accessible web pages and also the conversion system to improve the web pages to more accessible ones for elderly and disabled people. In addition to the WAI’s guideline, there are several conditions peculiar to Japan such as language specificity and the frequent use of cellular phone terminal. According to the survey in April 2000 by using the web accessibility checkup system Bobby, 19 out of 22 top pages of major government agencies had accessibility problems. The government agencies and local public institutions should actively make efforts to ensure the web accessibility and the results may be effective for the better understanding of the problems among general public.

 

Cooperation with users

In the development of a new support system of Web accessibility proposed above, it is necessary to cooperate with elderly and disabled people at various places to corroborate in the field experiments of the system. It is also important to develop the system, which can be used not only on the personal computer but also on the other portable terminals based on the opinion of elderly and disabled people.

 

 

 

[1] http://www.soumu.go.jp/joho_tsusin/pressrelease/japanese/tsusin/000523j501.html 

[2] Now the Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications

 

 


Anyone can benefit from call forwarding services and international calling services if they communicate frequently overseas. International calling services include callback service, as well as voice over IP.