The digital ecosystem of applications, services, and consumer tech often overlooks older adults, or at best, reduces them to clichés about limited cognitive or physical abilities. Such age biases that are embedded in the design processes can lead to the digital marginalization of older adults -- not only their exclusion from the app, service, or tech offered in a digital format, but often also from their analog equivalent which is either phased out, or non-existent in the case of digitally-native products. From a socio-cultural perspective, this is partly rooted in a techno-solutionist approach to designing products aimed at both the general consumer market and specifically at older adults, where the products are designed as an intervention aimed at solving age-related problems or ailments. From a design methodology perspective, we often fall short of fully empowering older adults through the technology we create. In this talk I will discuss several of our recent projects and studies which uncovered barriers to meaningfully design technology for and with older adults: mental models with respect to technology use and non-use; behaviours and attitudes related to critical decision making; privacy concerns; and most importantly, the need to maintain agency. I will then argue for new methodological approaches that empower older users and put them in the lead for designing novel interactive technologies that assist with reducing their digital marginalization, across several types of applications and domains. This argument will be supported through the discussion of a case study from our project that enables older adults as content creators in virtual reality metaverses.


Dr. Cosmin Munteanu is an Associate Professor and Schlegel Research Chair in Technology for Healthy Aging with the Department of Systems Design Engineering at the University of Waterloo. He has dedicated more than two decades to research on facilitating natural, meaningful, and safe interactions between people and digital media and devices. Cosmin's interests include designing intelligent applications that improve access to information, support learning late in life, and reduce digital marginalization, such as for older adults whose enjoyment of life and participation in society could be better supported by advances in interactive assistive technologies such as voice, conversational, or virtual reality interfaces. For this, he draws from a wide range of disciplines such as computing sciences, engineering, critical theory, and technology and society studies.